Re: Drongo in the pejorative

To: Denis Abbott <>
Subject: Re: Drongo in the pejorative
From: Glen Ingram <>
Date: Sat, 21 Jun 1997 20:32:24 +1000
Dear Birdingaussers,

>Librarians, e.g., Denis Abbott, please
>say hello.

Look at that! You invoke Denis Abbot and the answer appears on your
screen. As well he mentioned one of everyone's favourtie birds,
Forty-spotted Pardalote. I was a drongo not to have thought of him
earlier. Many thanks too to Marjorie Wisby of Townsville (who has a
pinchable quote in here signature). Majorie, Jenny Norman, the kingpin
for SABirdnet, posted your excellent letter in South Africa yesterday. I
have just posted Denis's letter to there too.

Also I naughtily replied to Wilkes there and forgot about Birding-aus.
Normally I would not mention the slip, but I am seeking a prize for
prescience. Please send all email of adoration to me: the best wins an
unneeded wheelchair.

Glen Ingram wrote:
"Drongo" is fascinating. However, the earliest explanation of the word
in the pejorative in Australian English (Strine) refers to the bird as
the origin. That is what my question about "before World War II" is
about. I have narrowed the timing down to: "drongo" not in use before
1900 and widespread after World War II.
Anyone rub shoulders with Australian troops in the last War?

The problem with the Wilkes interpretation (below) is: coming second all

the time is not that bad: in fact it is excellent. From oral culture I
had learnt it came last all the time, which would be more acceptable as
an origin. There has to be more to the usage: "Drongo" would not have
been the first nor the last to perform either way.

Glen Ingram
Brisbane, Australia

"More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One
path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total
extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly" Woody

Denis Abbott wrote:

> G'day Glen & Birding ozzers (I repied to Glen ysterday but since I've
> keyed
> in all this stuff about drongos I thought it could be shared)
> Glad to hear that things are bearable for you but I hope that pain
> recedes
> quickly.
> Well here's devotion to a cause. I'm in here on Sat arvo. Sidney J.
> Baker's
> "The Australian language"(first pub. 1945 rev. 1966) did have more on
> the
> derivation of drongo:
> pp. 135-136
> "...seems to have come from the use of Drongo as the name of a horse.
> To
> quote: "In Melbourne, in the early 'twenties, a Victorian horse by the
> name
> of Drongo won a certain claim to fame by consistently finishing last
> or
> near last. Black-and-white artist Sammy Wells, then of the Melbourne
> "Herald", adopted Drongo as a character in his political and sporting
> cartoons. Drongo was the no-hoper in every situation..."
> A correspondent who devoted much time to studying the origin of
> drongo,
> says that the horse with that name raced five times in 1923 and sixth
> was
> his best placing. In 1924, he had fifteen starts, running two seconds,
> three thirds, one fifth and one sixth (one of the seconds was in the
> V.R.C.
> Victoria Derby; the other was in the St Leger Stakes). In 1925 Drongo
> earned three seconds and four thirds. Which makes one wonder whether
> Sammy
> Wells was fair in nominating the horse as an all-round no-hoper. My
> correspondent adds: "It occurs to me that, as the glossy black plumage
> of
> the Australian bird called the Drongo is sometimes described as dark
> blue,
> this may have been the actual start of the slang usage of the word,
> and the
> association with the horse-that-never-won-a-race merely an
> afterthought.
> All new service recruits are traditionally regarded as no-hopers by
> the old
> hands - which may explain why the raw recruits to the R.A.A.F. got the
> name
> about 1940"
> p. 307
> In a section on the use of names from flora and fauna Baker talks of
> the
> use of: "..morepork to describe a simpleton or dull-witted
> person....Today,
> morepork has faded from use, but two other bird names, galah and
> drongo,
> have taken over."
> Regards, Denis
> PS The 40 spots are still there and in good nos. At least 8 a couple
> of
> sundays back.
> Denis Abbott                                            ph:(03) 62 325
> 257
> Librarian                                               Int: (61 3) 62
> 325 257
> CSIRO Marine Laboratories                               Fax: (03) 62
> 325 103
> GPO Box 1538                                            Int: (61 3) 62
> 325 103
> Hobart Tas
> Australia 7001

Hi there,

At 01:41 PM 20/06/97 +1000, you wrote:
>Dear Birdingaussers,
>Does anyone know of the use of  the word "drongo" in the strine sense
>literature before World War II. Quote will be fine but reference where
>to find it would also be great. Librarians, e.g., Denis Abbott, please
>say hello.

The word drongo actually came into Strine use via a racehorse. The horse
presumably named for the bird, of course. Drongo was foaled in 1921, and
ignominious career ended in 1925. Apparently he excelled at coming in
second, and never won a race. From that time, anything which wasn't
quite up
to snuff was called a drongo, and subsequently the soubtriquet was
to anything clumsy, stupid or worthless.

My authority is G.A. Wilkes, _A Dictionary of Australian
SUP, 1978.

Hope this helps.

Townsville, NQ
Caranus 16 - good rowing!
 ~   Marjorie N. Wisby                    From every mountain-side   ~
 ~                        Let Freedom ring.        ~
 ~          - Samuel Francis Smith  ~
 ~                                                 (_America_)       ~
 ~  Have you noticed that people who are most unwilling to accept    ~
 ~  responsibility for their own actions, are the most keen to       ~
 ~  regulate everyone else's?                                        ~

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