Aussie lingo: nongs and drongos

By Frank Povah 19 April 2011
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Frank Povah chats about the history of this classic Aussie word for ‘fool’.

IT’S BEEN SUCH AS long time since I heard anyone called a nong and it would seem that another colour is fading from Australia’s once-vivid linguistic canvas.
It’s such a precise word, nong, describing someone who, unlike a drongo, may not be completely useless, may even be intelligent, but is nevertheless a fool and not
to be taken seriously. Pollies for example; most of them are nongs.

It has its roots in one or other of the English dialects. Ning-nang – a fool – later became ning-nong and no doubt was shipped off in chains to NSW. By the time I was in my teens, nong was well established and was even used adjectivally – “What sort of nong-nong idea is that?” – though the older form was, I remember, the more popular among my parents’ generation.

Nino Culotta used ning-nong in his 1957 book They’re A Weird Mob, and no-one thought it strange, except per-haps for the language police who probably called it “quaint” – it was in print after all – and in the next breath, so to speak, berated us for “glorifying the outlandish Australian accent and murdering the Queen’s English”.
But what would those nongs know, anyway?

Source: Australian Geographic Issue 88 (Oct – Nov,

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