plonk = obnoxious person

Jonathon Green slang at ABECEDARY.NET
Fri Oct 14 09:10:50 UTC 2005

Benjamin Zimmer wrote:

>---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Benjamin Zimmer <bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU>
>Subject:      plonk = obnoxious person
>In 1950 the British humorist Stephen Potter published a book called
>_Lifemanship_ (a follow-up to _Gamesmanship_ and predecessor to
>_One-Upmanship_). The subtitle of the U.S. edition of _Lifemanship_ (1951)
>was _The Art of Getting Away With It Without Being An Absolute Plonk_. In
>Potter's usage "plonk" evidently meant 'an obnoxious person' (a New York
>Times review calls it "an appellative of Mr. Potter's devising with
>onomatopoetic undertones"). I don't think this sense of "plonk" caught on,
>but here's an example from the Harvard Crimson which clearly plays on
>Potter's subtitle:
>Harvard Crimson, May 4, 1951
>How to Freeload Without Being An Intolerable Plonk.
>So is Potter's usage sui generis? It seems like it might be connected to
>"plonker" meaning 'a foolish or inept person' (OED 1966), or even "plonk"
>as R.A.F. slang for 'aircraftman second class' (OED 1941).
>--Ben Zimmer
I note the OED as follows:

*1950* S. POTTER
<> /Lifemanship/
iii. 44 If you have nothing to say, or, rather, something extremely
stupid and obvious, say it, but in a ‘plonking’ tone of
voice{em}i.e. roundly, but hollowly and dogmatically. /Ibid./ 45
‘Plonking’ of a kind can be made by the right use of quotation or
pretended quotation.

This, as I recall it, was the way in which Potter used plonk, vb. The
subtitle is not in the UK edition, and while Ben may have citations to
disprove this, I don't think Potter used the term as a noun, at least of
a person. I would suggest the Potter coined the verb and that if he does
have the n., it is to describe only the action, and not used of a
person. As for its origin, the OED brackets these cites with those, from
dialect, meaning large, heavy, i.e. Yorkshire: 'Little Jimmy hes a
plonkin' wife.'

The RAF's 'A.C. Plonk' is defined thus:
<> /Piece
of Cake/ 10 A/C Plonk, aircraftman 2nd class. In 1914-1918 ‘plonk’ was
Flanders slang for ‘mud’. Hence, an A/C Plonk is an aircraftman
literally in the mud or at the bottom{em}that is, lowest classification
of the lowest rank in the R.A.F

I don't think it links to Potter, other than in the imagery of
something/someone dropping heavily.


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