"Spill" in the Australian political sense

In Australia, a political party can have a “leadership spill”. Perhaps regrettably, it does not involve anything like collecting a load of politicians who have been blatantly corrupt or dishonest and dumping them off a cliff somewhere; all they end up doing is choosing a new leader for the party.

Why is it “spill”?

To spill is to lose something from the top.

I imagine that using a slightly poetic turn of phrase helps political journalists take themselves seriously.

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It also tends to confirm my stereotype of Australians as get-to-the-point realists. But is there history to show that “losing something from the top” really is the idea behind this?

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I am Australian and at least in my circles it’s not vernacular, it’s the sort of thing a journo would write. There are, however, another 25000000 Australians who may disagree.


A-ha! Thank you for mentioning that. That is where I saw it (news sites), but I didn’t know it was one of “those” words (property of Australia’s shadowy headline-writers’ cartel).

Aside: It’s funny to me that some Canadian sports reporters, when reading the scores, (a) have a scintillatingly creative set of words for “zero” (nothing, none, oh, zip, etc), and/but (b) they consistently use only “nil” for zero in certain sports, and never use “nil” for the others. (I don’t know how they decide which sports – maybe it’s only soccer, maybe it’s anything that looks British-y to a Canadian sports reporter, or something). Makes me suspect they’re leasing the word “nil” from its owners, under a very strict agreement.

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In cricket, a batsman who is bowled out without scoring any runs is “out for a duck”. When a bowler dismisses three batsmen on consecutive balls it is a “hat trick”. The captain of those dismissed might use more robust language but no-one would hear it over the cheering.

Canadians also use “hat trick” in ice hockey, for three goals in one game by the same player. (I’m sure that Canadians who play cricket use it just as you described, but hockey is familiar to 9¾ out of 10 people here, while cricket in Canada tends to be played by people who already knew it when they moved here.)

There is more about spill in law dictionaries, I found that a complete board spill can occur in the course of a shareholders meeting, called a spill meeting, as a result of a spill resolution.

I tried to penetrate “hat trick,” but it probably has more than one idea in its origin. hat trick | Etymology of phrase hat trick by etymonline