Margaret also asked about "galah". |
As an example of a (inadvertant) perjorative use of the bird's name, many years ago - I think early 70s- an eminent ornithologist visiting from the US was asked, by a journalist on arrival in Sydney, what he was going to do in Australia. His response was "Study the galahs in Canberra.". He wondered why people fell about laughing.
Some years later after I had moved to Canberra I observed a bunch of galahs reacting to rain (what is that? I hear you ask) by swinging upside down off power lines and screeching furiously. To try to understand why they did this I tried to track down the research project by the visiting US expert but failed. When I asked another member of COG why they did this the response was "That is typical of their behaviour. It explains why idiots are called galahs."
On Tue, Jan 5, 2010 at 9:43 AM, David McDonald <>
The Australian National Dictionary advises at
Transf. use of drongo the name of a bird. Perh. infl. by its earlier
use as the name of a racehorse (running between 1923 and 1925): see
quots. 1924 and 1946.] A fool or simpleton, a ‘no-hoper’ (orig. of a
Royal Australian Air Force recruit). Also drong and attrib.
[1924 Argus (Melbourne) 1 Nov. 24/5 Drongo is sure to be a very hard
horse to beat. He is improving with every run.] 1941 Somers Sun 2 July
2 When you are called Drongo, ignore it. 1942 A.J. McIntyre Putting
over Burst 3 I’m just a flamin’ drongo, Just a lowdown useless wart.
1944 Barging About: Organ 43 Austral. Landing Craft Co. 1 Sept. 6 All
the tribes of Oz did gather together, even the tribes of … Drongoes,
Dopes and Dills. 1946 Salt (Melbourne) 8 Apr. 22 Drongo was the name
of a horse who failed to win a race. … The horse retired in 1925 and
after that anybody or anything slow or clumsy became a Drongo. 1952 P.
Pinney Road in Wilderness 72 Only thing you drongoes can think of is
beer, beer, beer, and a sheila on the side. 1960 N. Cato Green grows
Vine 46 ‘What a drongo,’ said Mitch. ‘Dron-go?’ said Maria. ‘A dill—a
no-hoper.’ 1966 D. Niland Pairs & Loners 135, I didn’t waste time
like some drongo salesman who can’t tell when the customer really means
no. 1968 G. Mill Nobody dies but Me 14 It's very likely we’re the
cleanest bunch of drongs in the entire R-bloody-double-A.F. 1973 H.
Williams My Love 89 He said it was a job for drongoes, rubbing down
cars one after another. 1981 P. Radley Jack Rivers & Me 25 ‘What's
a bodgie, Connie?’ ‘A drongo who's younger than a grub but thinks he's
old enough to have a widgie.’
The Oxford English Dictionary 2nd edn 1989 (online) isn't so sure about
the racehorse bit:
3. A simpleton, a stupid person; see also quot. 1942. Hence as adj.,
silly, foolish. Austral. slang.
The statement in quot. 1966 is highly speculative.
1942 A. G. MITCHELL in Southerly Apr., Drongo, an R.A.A.F. recruit.
1945 BAKER Austral. Lang. vi. 130 Drongo and sonky, mean silly or
foolish. Ibid. viii. 156 Drongo, second-rate, worthless. Ibid. 160
Drongo, a raw recruit. 1953 R. BRADDON in I. Bevan Sunburnt Country 130
Drongo: No-hoper: Galah, all these are derogatory terms. They imply
stupidity in the person at whom the word is flung. 1957 J. CLEARY Green
Helmet 19 You're just a bloody drongo who doesn't know any better. 1960
S. H. COURTIER Gently dust Corpse xii. 177 Damn what you thought!.. I
never realized you were such an unmitigated drongo. 1966 BAKER Austral.
Lang. (ed. 2) vi. 135 Its popular zoological name has only the remotest
link with the use of drongo to denote a slow-witted or stupid person.
That application seems to have come from the use of Drongo as the name
of a horse..[which] won a certain claim to fame by consistently
finishing last or near last. 1968 K. WEATHERLY Roo Shooter 130 If we
don't get her some dingo will, or some drongo of a holiday-shooter will
murder her. 1969 Advertiser (Adelaide) 12 May 5/4 You Aussie coves are
just a bunch of drongoes.
Cheers - David
On 5/01/2010 8:53 AM, Margaret Leggoe wrote:
Does anyone know how the word "drongo" came to be used to describe a stupid
person? Ditto "galah" and "birdbrain".