In all the excitement about words which became widespread in English during the First World War it is worth sparing a few moments for the words which infuriatingly did not get used. Given all the time that English-speaking soldiers spent in French estaminets drinking ‘vin blanc’ how on earth did they not get round to calling it ‘plonk’?
1929 Register News-Pictorial (Adelaide) 31 Oct. 26/2: Coffin varnish and plonk were two of the names which Mr Collins […] referred to some of the cheaper wines.
‘We’ll ’ave a drink to ’elp us,’ said Bill, and a cork went plonk! 1916 P. MacGill The Great Push 57:
“Just one , Madame, only one vin blank!”“Non, non, Monsieur, finish vin blanc, finish! Gendarme come tout de suite: finish!”“Orright, then Madame, I can be a nurk too! I know where there’s a nice, clean waterhole full up to its grassy edge with fat, juicy frogs, and you won’t get one off ‘em!”
Returned Soldiers’ LeagueSmoke SocialDiggers should join up and help their comrades… Where two or three diggers are gathered together there is sure to be some fun and many reminiscences, and withal an atmosphere of camaraderie which impregnates the gathering with such a spirit of goodwill that the mere fact of being present is a privilege. … The President (Dr Steele) was in the chair, and there was a glint in that gentleman’s eye from the jump that prophesied that so far as he was concerned proceedings were not going to lag. However, not much urging was required, for, in the words of the invitation cards, the comrades rallied to their “Beera Quicekateer, boo-koo, vin blanc and mungey” and made the night the event of the year, and so as to avoid misunderstanding it might be said that when the fun was over they were each and every one as clearheaded as when the evening started.
What did Omar Mean – Wine?Corp William F Sherman[this includes the term ‘parleying’]A lot of licker is hard to take, but has a rebound like a French 75. But Vin Ordinaire, as they call it for short, is an insult to the taste without being a spur to the ambition. Vin Blanc, the pale variety, isn’t even good to look at, and it resembles vinegar in taste, appearance and smell. Vin Rouge has a beautiful vin rouge colour that is very deceptive. It tastes, however, even worse than its sister Blanche.
Christmas at the War“A Nineteen-Fourteener” has a few recollections of Christmas while abroad with the A.I.F.In those days we were never short of “felloose” – the Gyppo term for cash. …Vin blanc and French Biere spun out about 9 pm with the majority still sitting up on their blankets.
The Great War – according to HoyleDo that puttee up.Yes, sergeant.Don’t answer me back.No, Sergeant.P-a-r-r-ade, S’hun!Stand-at –Eas-s-se.P-a-r-r-ade, S’hun!Dis-miss.Fall in.Dis-miss.Your leave is cancelled.? ? ? ! ! ! x x x ! ! ! Sergeant.What did you say?Nothing, Sergeant.Well, don’t say it again.Fall in.Dis-miss.Your rifle is dirty.D’you call these socks.You’ve got blanco on your face.Don’t answer me back.So this is France.Vin blanc.Vin blanc.Vin blanc.It’s a long way to Tipperary.Stop singing.Put that _ light out.Put that LIGHT OUT.So this is the front line.Look at that pretty cornflower.Things seem pretty quiet here.Things seem —-Wallop. Whe-e-e-e-e!Yes, nurse.Is this Blighty?Yes, doctor, I fell worse than ever.When this ta-ra-ra war is over.Good-night, sister.Oh, yes, I saw a bit of fighting.
Report of The Diggers’ BallOne of Narromine’s Biggest Social FunctionsList of dances includes No 4 fox trot the Chat’s Parade (by De Louzer); No 5 waltz Tosti’s San Fairy Ann; No 6 one step, In a Vin Blanc Boozer.
Over the usual round of drinks Boon volunteered that he had been in France during the war, and had run across Smith in one of the English foot regiments.“We had a binge together,” he said. “You know that vin blanc stuff. We swapped stories and hats; he took my slouch hat and I had his cap. Got Hell roared out of me next morning on parade. Never saw him again …”
- In Australian and New Zealand war reportage during and after the First World War the word ‘plonk’ was used to describe a variety of projectiles, their sounds or their effects.
- ‘Vin blanc’ and a number of variations including ‘Von Blink’, ‘vin blank’, ‘vim blong’, ‘plinketty-ponk’, ‘point blank’ and ‘Jim Blonk’, were used, but apparently not ‘plonk’, to describe white wine, during the war and in reminiscences afterwards.
- Australians were familiar with the term ‘vin blanc’ and it was used widely. Not so much in New Zealand newspapers: from currently available OCR (high quality) in the NZ newspapers archive I can find only 3 citations of ‘vin blanc’ 1914-18.
- In several situations in postwar Australian newspapers, where one might expect to see a slang term, the straightforward ‘vin blanc’ is used. Some of these appear after the documentation of ‘plonk’ for cheap wine (1927).
“Sauntering over to a French canteen, we were initiated into the mysteries of “Jim Blonk” [vin blanc], and “Vin Rouge”, neither of which appealed to our English palates.” Strange, J D. The Price of Victory, 1930, quoted in Hiddemann, H. Untersuchungen zum Slang des Englischen Heeres im Weltkrieg, 1938
Welter of TaxationA characteristic contribution to the debate was made by Mr Collins. He objected to the Government “plonking on” the taxation.“Give us a definition of ‘plonk’?” asked Mr McMillan.“Yes, I can do that.” Replied the obliging Mr Collins.“It is a cheap wine produced in Mr Crosby’s district.” Loud laughter greeted the sally.
WineCable – “A wine ship with free samples will shortly leave France for America and Australia”.Sing hey for the good ship Claretcup,Sing ho for the cargo carried;Her anchor’s weighed and her peter’s up,Too long she’s tacked and tarried.Her bulkheads burst with bonza booze,Van blong, van rouge and sherry,…
Fish Oh!Van blong and van rouge at a French café came along as a top-off and two hours later Ted S- and his mate got aboard the rattler for Perth, Ted having a large parcel of fish under his arm.
Reminiscences of FranceThe Australians, partly through irony and partly for practical reasons, deformed many French terms, and substituted either an English word or syllable at the end of a phrase. Thus instead of the French “Comment allez-vous!” (How are you?) the Australian said – “Comment allez plonk?” The same thing was done by the French themselves, and the French word for German, “allemand”, was altered to “alleboche”, the final syllable of which became in time an independent and universally used word. Proper names were mutilated in the same fashion, and instead of “Marguerite” one heard “Margarine”, and “Simone” became “Cinnamon”. In Flanders people drank beer, and on the Somme white wine. This was first called “vim blong”, then “vim blank”, and afterwards “Point blank”. It would be interesting, the lecturer said, to revisit this district later and see how many of these words had remained in the dialect.
Behind the LinesYou can get French beer at 1d a glass – very second-rate stuff – while “special” at 2d a glass and “Boche” at 1 franc per bottle are better, but are all very light. Spirits are, of course, practically “taboo”, but vin rouge and vin blanc (red and white wine respectively) are popular drinks, but the quality is doubtful. Champagne may be had everywhere, and at varying prices.
Hill time after time thwarted Edward’s good intentions by plonking a left to the face.
[A woman gives her husband] a resounding smack in the face . Plonk!
“Whizzy Plonk” – Metal from the SkiesAll we have heard was “whizzy plonk” [talking about falling anti-aircraft shells]
I was coming up the sap one day conveying mails, when a Taube aeroplane flew high, over our heads. Of course our guns must fire on her, so we, being directly underneath, got the full benefit of the stray bits. I was walking along with a chap and both of us were watching her as she passed when all of a sudden – bang! And almost immediately a faint pur-r-r of falling pieces. We landed together under the shelter of a bank, and ‘plonk’ came the pieces all around us.
Zip-zip, hissing and cracking of bullets. …. plonk – only a Hun bullet which has buried itself
… the dull ‘plonk’ of a gun in the enemy’s lines …
[Naval guns] “plonk” two or three shells in a trench [and later] “plonk” some shrapnel above them
At about 11 a.m. plonk came two or three shells bursting on top of me, and burying me four or five [feet] deep. …Did I see the tanks? Of course I saw them, and they are absolutely out on their own, and very strange to watch, crawling along at four miles an hour.
The regular “plonk, plonk”’ of the feet of a woman swimming …
It looks as if the restaurant-keeper’s education was sadly neglected or else that they entertain a profound contempt for French. One well-known Bourke-Street restaurateur writes it “Balmonge,” while another, not far away, puts it down as “Blank manjy.”
An officer emerges from a pillbox, and with a whisper tells us to make for the distant ruins of a farm. Panting with nervous fear we each make for it, and our steps are shaky as we proceed. I try to run but my limbs are like lead. Plonk za! A near shave that time. Some of us manage it, others get hit and join their unfortunate companions in death.
Eric Partridge's take on 'plonk' is interesting (and he was there): 'Mud, esp. that of no-man's-land: military: 1916-18. (Hence, over the plonk, 'over the top'.) B. & P. [Brophy & Partridge] Ex the noise made when one draws one's feet from the clinging mire. ... 2. Pinky, cheap port, sold by the quart : Australian [Partridge was from New Zealand] : from ca. 1926. Prob. ex plink-plonk'.
In the 1930s the term spread - Partridge notes 'plonk' as cheap brandy sold in Italy (naval slang); and a 'plonk bar', an Australian wine bar, from circa 1935; a 'plonk-dot', 'A confirmed wine-bibber' from 1953; and 'plonko', a drunkard addicted to plonk, Australian since c. 1930.