Letter: Wowser country

Sir: I am surprised by Christopher Hawtree's claim (Words, 23 December) that the word "wowser", meaning killjoy, "was in recent use in both England and America before becoming Australian," with evidence offered that The Economist used it here in 1963 followed by The Times in 1977. I heard it commonly in Australia for years before I left there in 1954.

And only in Australia: over a period of two years during the war here I found no English person who understood the word and for more than 30 years past here, I have consistently had to explain to English people what it means and even how to spell it.

My 1951 edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary includes it - correctly - as "puritanical fanatic" with its source as Australia. I have never known an American who knew the word or its meaning, including my American relatives.

I cannot say that it has never been used elsewhere, but it surely is as Australian as "bunyip" (a mythical animal) or "furphy" (rumour).

LEN CLARKE

Uxbridge, Middlesex

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