Bird and racehorse make Aussie slang

Spangled Drongo

Dicrurus bracteatus

A spangled Drongo perched momentarily on the top of the grass tree stalk, flitting between the veranda roof, the perch and the paperbark tree, catching insects mid-air in an acrobatic display. Long wire-like bristles (rictal bristles) on the side of the bill guide the prey into the Drongo’s slightly hooked bill.

Drongo is Aussie slang for a ‘dim wit’ or fool, though biologists tell us that birds are much more intelligent than humans ever imagined. According to the AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL DICTIONARY CENTRE the association between Drongo and fools originated from a haplass racehorse that never won a race. Here’s the explanation:

There was an Australian racehorse called Drongo during the early 1920s. It seems likely that he was named after the bird called the ‘drongo’. He wasn’t a an absolute no-hoper of a racehorse: he ran second in a VRC Derby and St Leger, third in the AJC St Leger, and fifth in the 1924 Sydney Cup. He often came very close to winning major races, but in 37 starts he never won a race. In 1924 a writer in the Melbourne Argus comments: ‘Drongo is sure to be a very hard horse to beat. He is improving with every run’. But he never did win.
Soon after the horse’s retirement it seems that racegoers started to apply the term to horses that were having similarly unlucky careers. Soon after the term became more negative, and was applied also to people who were not so much ‘unlucky’ as ‘hopeless cases’, ‘no-hopers’, and thereafter ‘fools’. In the 1940s it was applied to recruits in the Royal Australian Air Force. It has become part of general Australian slang.

Meanings and origins of Australian words and idioms AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL DICTIONARY CENTRE Australian National University College of Arts and Social Sciences SCHOOL OF LITERATURE, LANGUAGES AND LINGUISTICS

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