fair dinkum? (part 2 Dinkum Smith etc.)

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Wed Jun 13 09:47:44 UTC 2012

The English Midlands (especially Lincolnshire) and Australia (especially New South Wales) are the areas where "fair dinkum" is earliest attested (so far).

1881 North Lincolnshire Words  p.117 (series C 26) : Fair-dinkum, that which is just and equitable [Google Books bibliographic data for the Glossary Series are mistaken]
1882 Nottingham Evening Post 23 Feb p. 2 Linciln Conservating Club."... be : fair dinkum to all classes of people. Now they in Lincoln knew there had been some very strong prosecutions of people who had in neighbouring town indulged ... ?

1848 Fri 14 Sept Lincolnshire Chronicle p.5 col. 5: “ George Smith, alias Dinkum Smith, a notorious thief, who has been for a long time the very dread of the neighbourhood of Rasen, was last week apprehended by Superintendent Forck ... "
I wonder why he took, or was given, the name Dinkum. Any suggestions?

Thomas Alexander Browne, alias Rolf Boldrewood,  wrote  Robbery Under Arms. 1888, cited in OED. It had already been serialized in 1882-3 in Sydney Mail.  "It took us an hour's hard dinkum to get near the peak." Dinkum there means work, and it surely does not support the "good gold, din kum," folk etmology--especially since Browne was a gold commissioner since 1876. He had arrived in Sydney in 1831 (at age 5?). (Thomas Alexander Browne...Bibliography, Keast Burke 1956.)

I don't know if Green's DS or Butler's Dinkum Dictionary (3rd ed.) add anything (anyone care to see?). Not in DARE.

[Likely unrelated: Alabama Folksongs. "hi yo dinkum darkey" [Worldcat].
NYT BR GB Haiti song 1921 - Snippet view chorus
CWng-a rl ng-a ri ng-ch Ing-cha Hl-o-dinkum darky (Repeat).]
From: American Dialect Society [ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] on behalf of Stephen Goranson [goranson at DUKE.EDU]
Sent: Tuesday, June 05, 2012 9:33 AM
Subject: [ADS-L] fair dinkum?

"Origin unknown" for "fair dinkum," according to OED--and to me too. Here, merely a few notes, questions, and perhaps an antedating. Since it appears in the English Dialect Dictionary (and others) and was known at about the same time in Australian writing (circa 1888-1890), some proposed it originated in England but became popular in Australia. The movement of people was more in that direction than the reverse. (The collocation left little or no trace in 19th-century US.) But, as far as I know (feel free to correct me), the earliest secure attestations are in Australia, which do not prove it started there, but might at least keep the question open.

Since it is an obvious place to look, I may not be the first to find uses in Trove, the Australian newspaper database. The following 1879 use may be written up somewhere (is it?), but isn't in OED, the Australian National Dictionary, etc. I haven't checked Green's, or Butler's Dinkum Dictionary 3rd ed., etc. (anyone care to?). Liberman's etymology bibliography lists only one dinkum article (which adds little); Notes & Queries has several late notes, the most memorable being a claim to have heard "fair dinkum" from a Lincolnshire farmer in 1848-9--but that claim was made over fifty years later, so is somewhat iffy.

  Australian Town and Country Journal (New South Wales) Saturday 30 August 1879 p 33:
    ... Morning Gallops. The work on Randwick last Saturday was almost of a purely sensational nature, and everything that put in an appearance did really serviceable work. The following are the principal items :- Mabel, the up-country mare, was sent what is known as "fair dinkum".... [sent by heart, grace, or the jockey?]

Several other appearances follow (e.g., a horse, Blue, "doing the fair 'dinkum'" in Jan 1880; the early uses appear on the sports pages, in rowing, for example). Besides the already-known variant spelling dincum, we may note a goofy Nov. 1898 retelling in which Moses asks "Straight dingkum?" In the likely not really related but I'll mention anyway department, HathiTrust has an 1830 text, Humane Policy: Or, Justice to the Aborigines of New Settlements Essential....by Saxe Bannister (p. lxxxii), which tells of a chief named Dingum, in New South Wales, a name said to be "nearly equivalent" to "'I of myself' or 'I am'."

Also of doubtful relevance is the 1862 Copperhead ("peace Democrat," pro-slavery) poem (in the Ohio newspaper The Crisis June 18 and reprinted in other papers and in 1863 Copperhead Minstrel) in which "Dinkum Darkey" takes a room in Uncle Sam's hotel, at the expense of whites. An earlier racist song oddly mixes anti-black and anti-Chinese words, calling the latter "din cum darkey." (See: Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music...2005 p. 42.) One folk etymology claims Chinese spoke (in Cantonese) of din kum, good gold, during an Australian gold rush. Among other probable nonsense coincidences are sing-song syllables (though dinkum could turn out to be fake Latin?), e.g. the Dec. 9, 1876 Once a Week story: "When I carry grog bottle, um allus seem to laugh inside, and go dinkum, dinkum, 'till I 'bliged to pull de cork out and smell um, and den I taste, an' him all ober wid me."

As promised, I did not give the dinkum origin, whether in the sense of work or of genuine, reliable, etc.  Can we find the origin, fair dinkum?

Stephen Goranson

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