A follow-up to my posting on gay sex toys, specifically on the dong as a replica of a penis for anal sex play. A simple metaphorical transfer — but where does dong ‘penis’ come from?

Not such an easy question. It could, of course, just have been an invention, a monosyllable with a good sound for the meaning. What makes for a good sound?

OED2 ‘s cites (where the item is labeled “coarse slang (chiefly U.S.)” ) start in 1930, but that’s from American Speech, indicating clearly that the item was used earlier (though not necessarily much earlier). Then we get three later cites, one again from a compilation of slang, the others from John Steinbeck and Philip Roth:

1939   J. Steinbeck Grapes of Wrath xvi. 245   Tell ’em ya dong’s growed sence you los’ your eye.

1961   E. Partridge Dict. Slang Suppl. 1124/2   Three Canadian terms for ‘penis’..are dink, dong, hammer.

1969   P. Roth Portnoy’s Complaint 18,   I was wholly incapable of keeping my paws off my dong.

My guess is that the word is an invention suggesting dick  and maybe also Yiddish-English schlong ‘penis’ (originally ‘snake’, so another metaphor), possibly a combination of the two. The OED‘s (very tentative) suggestion is more fanciful, but also more charming: that the word comes from Edward Lear’s invention, “The Dong with a luminous nose”, a nonsense rhyme in Lear’s Laughable Lyrics of 1877. OED cites:

A fabulous creature represented as having a luminous nose; also transf. [with literary allusions:]

1927   E. Bowen Hotel xi. 131   Their cigarette ends glowing and fading preceded them like a pair of luminous noses, and equidistant spots of fire advertised that other pairs of Dongs were promenading solemnly.

1954   L. MacNeice Autumn Sequel 49   Egdon gives to Snark and Dong His kind attention still.

The Lear original, with his illustration:

When awful darkness and silence reign
Over the great Gromboolian plain,
Through the long, long wintry nights;–
When the angry breakers roar
As they beat on the rocky shore;–
When Storm-clouds brood on the towering heights
Of the Hills of the Chankly Bore:–

Then, through the vast and gloomy dark,
There moves what seems a fiery spark,
A lonely spark with silvery rays
Piercing the coal-black night,–
A Meteor strange and bright:–
Hither and thither the vision strays,
A single lurid light.

Slowly it wanders,–pauses,–creeeps,–
Anon it sparkles,–flashes and leaps;
And ever as onward it gleaming goes
A light on the Bong-tree stems it throws.
And those who watch at that midnight hour
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as the wild light passes along,–
‘The Dong!–the Dong!
‘The wandering Dong through the forest goes!
‘The Dong! the Dong!
‘The Dong with a luminous Nose!’

Long years ago
The Dong was happy and gay,
Till he fell in love with a Jumbly Girl
Who came to those shores one day,
For the Jumblies came in a sieve, they did,–
Landing at eve near the Zemmery Fidd
Where the Oblong Oysters grow,
And the rocks are smooth and gray.
And all the woods and the valleys rang
With the Chorus they daily and nightly sang,–
‘Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue
And they went to sea in a sieve.’

Happily, happily passed those days!
While the cheerful Jumblies staid;
They danced in circlets all night long,
To the plaintive pipe of the lively Dong,
In moonlight, shine, or shade.
For day and night he was always there
By the side of the Jumbly Girl so fair,
With her sky-blue hands, and her sea-green hair.
Till the morning came of that hateful day
When the Jumblies sailed in their sieve away,
And the Dong was left on the cruel shore
Gazing–gazing for evermore,–
Ever keeping his weary eyes on
That pea-green sail on the far horizon,–
Singing the Jumbly Chorus still
As he sate all day on the grassy hill,–
‘Far and few, far and few,
Are the lands where the Jumblies live;
Their heads are green, and their hands are blue
And they went to sea in a sieve.’

But when the sun was low in the West,
The Dong arose and said;–
–‘What little sense I once possessed
‘Has quite gone out of my head!’–
And since that day he wanders still
By lake or forest, marsh and hill,
Singing–‘O somewhere, in valley or plain
‘Might I find my Jumbly Girl again!
‘For ever I’ll seek by lake and shore
‘Till I find my Jumbly Girl once more!’

Playing a pipe with silvery squeaks,
Since then his Jumbly Girl he seeks,
And because by night he could not see,
He gathered the bark of the Twangum Tree
On the flowery plain that grows.
And he wove him a wondrous Nose,–
A Nose as strange as a Nose could be!
Of vast proportions and painted red,
And tied with cords to the back of his head.
–In a hollow rounded space it ended
With a luminous Lamp within suspended,
All fenced about
With a bandage stout
To prevent the wind from blowing it out;–
And with holes all round to send the light,
In gleaming rays on the dismal night.

And now each night, and all night long,
Over those plains still roams the Dong;
And above the wall of the Chimp and Snipe
You may hear the sqeak of his plaintive pipe
While ever he seeks, but seeks in vain
To meet with his Jumbly Girl again;
Lonely and wild–all night he goes,–
The Dong with a luminous Nose!
And all who watch at the midnight hour,
From Hall or Terrace, or lofty Tower,
Cry, as they trace the Meteor bright,
Moving along through the dreary night,–
‘This is the hour when forth he goes,
‘The Dong with a luminous Nose!
‘Yonder–over the plain he goes,
‘He goes!
‘He goes;
‘The Dong with a luminous Nose!’

(It’s hard not to see the illustration as multiply phallic (just beginning with the nose as a widespread phallic symbol), especially if you know that Lear was homosexual, however chaste he might have been in life. It’s also incredibly hard to read the verse these days without hooting, but that’s not Edward Lear’s fault. “He goes! / He goes: / The Dong with a luminous Nose!”).


2 Responses to “dong”

  1. chrishansenhome Says:

    I think that Kenneth Williams’ reading of this poem is perhaps the funniest rendering you will ever hear.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From GR Kelly on Facebook, this link to Kenneth Williams performing the Lear poem.

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