plonk = obnoxious person

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Fri Oct 14 10:17:38 UTC 2005

On Fri, 14 Oct 2005 10:10:50 +0100, Jonathon Green wrote:

>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.'

Thanks, I hadn't realized that nominal "plonk" doesn't actually appear in
the text of Potter's book -- perhaps then it was simply imposed by his
American publisher looking for a catchy subtitle. My gloss of 'obnoxious
person' was based on reviews of the U.S. edition (and that Crimson
article), but it looks like there was no clear consensus on what a "plonk"
might actually be...

New York Times, May 20, 1951, (Book Review) p. 12/1
Now, in the luxuriant corners of various American cities, where a more
exotic life is encouraged to bloom, Potterers putter about seeking fresh
and ingenious ways of intimidating the most while managing to be the least
of a plonk.
New York Times, June 7, 1951, p. 31/3
If Britons never, never shall be Plonks, they must remember, Mr. Potter
suggests, Wilde's definition of a gentleman as a man who is never
unintentionally rude. The illustrations are rich in whim and wham and
dogged gaiety. You know that many an outright Plonk is going to consider
them Awfully Good Fun.
_The Ubyssey_ (Univ. of British Columbia), Oct. 18, 1955, p. 1/1
If you are a "plonk", fellow, and want to know the "ploy" that will make
you "one-up", well, the place for you to be is in the auditorium at noon
Wednesday. That is where you will meet and hear Stephen Potter, famed for
his Gamesmanship, Lifemanship, and One-Upmanship expositions. And,
naturally enough, you do not have to be a "plonk" (see Potter for a
definition) to enjoy his talk Wednesday.

By the way, the _Ubyssey_ is another student paper to add to Bill Mullins'
list of digitized newspaper archives with page images. UBC has three
archived publications available, though there is no on-site search (you
have to do a Google site search, as with the MIT _Tech_).
The Ubyssey (1918-1988)
UBC Alumni Chronicle (1939-2000)
UBC Reports (1955-2005)

--Ben Zimmer

More information about the Ads-l mailing list