Rebel Without a Clause by Sue Butler

Reviewed by Antonella Townsend

A hearty thanks to Pan Macmillan Australia for publishing Sue Butler’s Rebel Without a Clause; clearly it is not going to be on a bestseller list given that its subject matter seems to be going out of style.  Nevertheless, this lovely hardback is a most engaging book; wittily written, it digs, via short chapters, into language usage in a most sympathetic way.

Sue Butler is a lexicographer, previously an Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary; she demonstrates a pragmatic approach towards language usage, and as such could not be considered a pedant.  If anything, she veers too much towards tolerance.  Readers might hear a distant tut, tutting, coming from the direction of the Apostrophe Protection Society since she has given up shielding the apostrophe from certain extinction.  Explaining her position in the first chapter, ‘To care or not to care’, her stance revolves around clarity; if the modern (some might say sloppy) usage does not cause ambiguity then she dons a relaxed attitude.   Mercifully, this easygoing attitude does not apply to ‘the journey’.

The ‘life as a journey’ metaphor is covered in the chapter entitled ‘The dreaded journey’.  Sue tells the reader that the metaphor is old, examples going back to the1300s, where it was used sparingly.  Sue describes it as bringing to mind the weary pilgrim plodding along.  But now, this metaphor is collapsing under the weight of daily usage.  Personally, I do not need to suffer another footballer recount their over-paid ‘journey’ from obscurity to fame, to addiction to shameful arrest, and then the crawl further along their journey to enlighten the general public.  Furthermore, is life a journey really?  Often it is more a series of thermal up-lifts followed by sickening downdraughts.  But I digress … Sue ends this chapter by suggesting we could also take a break from ‘closure’ – blaming the American psychoanalysts for allowing it to escape from the analyst’s couch into ‘the banal mantra of pop psychology.’

Sue amuses the reader with so many other language wisps on which to meditate – how to pronounce pronunciation, not slipping into pronounciation, how bruschetta springs from the lips as bru-shet-ta or brus-ket-ta, and did you know the plural of cactus is really cactapodes!  I had not yet met Xenofiction as a genre and am now looking forward to seeing the world through the eyes of an extraterrestrial.  Readers will learn that the Australian bogan has flowed into the vernacular via the Bogan River, a region of Victoria, and has been around since the late 1890s.  Sue also details how Sheila came into represent a variety of women and theories about the didjeridu.  There are quite a few chapters regarding how words are used incorrectly that would benefit all of us in one way or another.

There is so much amusing and valuable information in this delightful publication – Highly Recommended!

Rebel Without a Clause


by Sue Butler

Pan Macmillan Australia

ISBN: 9781760788322 [Hardback]

$24.99; 272pp

ISBN: 9781760983253 [Ebook]



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