Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Drop of Light/

Word watch: Shirtfront

Politicians have coined many a term but few have caused as much of an international stir as shirtfront.

Australian National Dictionary editor AMANDA LAUGESEN, BA (Hons) '97, PhD '01 explains.

Australian Prime Ministers are well-known for their contributions to Australian English - think John Howard's battlers and Paul Keating's unrepresentative swill.

At times, their use of Australian English has generated controversy - Kevin Rudd's fair shake of the sauce bottle in 2009 perhaps being the most memorable.

Recently, Tony Abbott contributed to public discussion of Australian English when he used the term shirtfront.

When Abbott commented to the media that he would "shirtfront" Vladimir Putin, Russia's President, over the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, many people had no idea what he was talking about.

The media quickly rushed to explain what the term meant, amid jokes of Abbott confronting a man renowned for going shirtless.

Many news stories identified the term as an Australian Rules term that refers to an aggressive front-on bump to the chest of an opponent, using the hip and shoulder, and sometimes knocking the opponent to the ground.

It is technically an illegal action.