Aussie barracking for The Ashes

Soon the English cricket team will be arriving in Australia to play for The Ashes. We will all be barracking for the Aussies. All cricket followers know that The Ashes came into being as a result of the great rivalry between Mother England and the Australian colonies. When the English team were first defeated by the Australian colonials the wooden bails from the stumps were burnt by English supporters and placed in an urn to signify the death of English cricket.

But few cricket supporters would know that Australian cricket also introduced the word barracking to the world.

Remember that a barrack is a building or group of buildings used to house military personnel. In plural, it is barracks. It comes originally from the Spanish barracas, for soldiers’ tents or huts.

As a verb it can mean to house someone in a barrack. It also has the meanings in Britain to jeer or shout at a player, speaker, or team. In Australia it is used to shout support for a team. How did it end up with these two opposite meanings?

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable explains that the word barracking first came into use in the 1880s in Australia. In this sense it was used to mean supporting or cheering on your team. It is thought to have been used to describe the supporters of an army cricket team from the Victoria Barracks in South Melbourne, ie barrackers. It is more likely to have come from a Northern Irish dialect term, barrack, meaning to brag. However, it may well have been an amalgam with the aboriginal word borak, meaning to banter.

Brewer’s, a British publication, suggests that the word was probably introduced into England by Australian cricketers and their supporters. It further suggests that the English picked up the opposite meaning (to jeer at, shout against, or interrupt with rude comments) quite understandably.