Australian leader's 'shirtfront' gets new meaning

AP News
Posted: Nov 24, 2014 1:58 AM

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian prime minister's threat to "shirtfront" Russia's president during an international summit this month has prompted a dictionary to broaden its definition of the word beyond an Australian football term for a shoulder charge to an opponent's chest.

Russian officials ridiculed the threat made by Prime Minister Tony Abbott at a news conference last month, warning that President Vladimir Putin was a judo expert.

Susan Butler, editor of the Macquarie Dictionary, the definitive authority on Australian English, said Monday that the controversy made her editors realize that the term had taken on a broader meaning in recent decades than an illegal maneuver on the football field.

"I don't think that Aussie rules (football) thing — which is a head-on charge aiming to knock someone to the ground — is what was meant," Butler said of Abbott's threat. "It was a more general thing of grabbing someone by the shirt."

Abbott, an athletic 56-year-old former amateur boxer, never explained what he meant by his plan to "shirtfront" Putin, 62, when the pair met on the sidelines of the annual G-20 summit of leaders of wealthy and emerging countries, held in the Australian city of Brisbane on Nov. 15-16.

Abbott later tempered his language, promising a "robust discussion" when the leaders met. Abbott has demanded more cooperation from Russia on the Dutch-led investigation into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine in July by a missile suspected to have been fired by Russian-backed rebels.

Starting in January, the Macquarie Dictionary online will offer alternative definitions of the verb "shirtfront" in addition to the word's original football usage.

Draft definitions include "to grab (a man) by the front of his shirt in an aggressive and threatening manner, usually as a preliminary to abusing or berating him." The meaning could also be as innocuous as "to confront (someone) with a complaint or grievance."

Abbott was also at the center of a political storm in 2012 that prompted the same dictionary to change its definition of "misogyny."

When then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard branded Abbott a misogynist in a fiery speech, her critics accused her of hyperbole, pointing to dictionary definitions of misogyny as hatred of women. Butler then conceded that that definition was decades out of date, and broadened the Macquarie definition to include entrenched prejudice against women.