Etymology of Plonk

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Etymology of Plonk

Postby Dan Smothergill » Sat Dec 23, 2006 2:22 pm

"Plonk" was one of those terms I first encountered on these pages. It's meaning was clear enough from the context, no one ever had anything good to say about plonk, but where did the term come from? Was it one of those words whose sound pretty much conveys its meaning? Or was there something else to it?

Reading along in Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory I came across one plausible sounding explanation of its origins. Accordingly, plonc is traced to the rendering of WW I British soldiers of vin blanc, a term they would hear often enough from the French.

What say you forumites? Is this at all accurate? Or is it just plonk?

Happy Holidays!
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Robin Garr » Sat Dec 23, 2006 3:20 pm

Dan, I believe Bob Ross has done some research in this. I wrote an article about it years back, and to the best of my recollection, experts are about evenly divided between the British soldier/WWI explanation (although it doesn't account for red wine) and the alternative theory that it's an onamatopoetic word for the sound of wine splashing into a carafe.
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Bill Spohn » Sat Dec 23, 2006 5:33 pm

Plonk?

Please - many of us would only tipple the more upmarket French version, 'plonque'!
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Dec 23, 2006 5:44 pm

As Robin remembers I did a short study of the history of this word and posted it on WLDG back in 2002; it was erased in the ordinary course of business, and I failed to keep the article itself. However, the word is apparently Australian in origin as is the closely allied "plink".

I did ruminate a bit on the word in one of my wine notes in my wine diary, and this entry reviews some of the research at the time:

PS: If all else fails, one can ruminate on the history of the word "plonk" itself. I've got a short essay on the subject somewhere, but you may find the basic research interesting to review. First, a short extract from a story which correctly attributes the word in the vinous sense to Australian slang from World War I, and then a longer extract from the OED:

Arthur went to war in 1914, he was a stretcher carrier, and served in combat until 1918, when he came home, he followed the usual downward slide into drinking, from hard liquor, to plonk (A bad wine), to plink (Bad wine, strengthened with methylated spirits).
Alex Long’s Short Stories. http://www.swcp.com/promom/oz.htm

OED:

[prob. a corruption of blanc in Fr. vin blanc.]

Cheap wine, or wine of poor quality. Also attrib.

Various popular and humorous etymologies, such as that suggested in quot. 1967, are without foundation. Although it may be argued that the word denotes red wine more commonly than it does white wine, the etymology given above is attested by the earliest sources.

[1919 W. H. Downing Digger Dialects 52 Vin blank, white wine. Ibid., Von blink, a humorous corruption of vin blanc.]

1930 H. Williamson Patriot's Progress iv. 137 Nosey and Nobby shared a bottle of plinketty plonk, as vin blanc was called.

1933 Bulletin (Sydney) 11 Jan. 12 The man who drinks illicit brews or ‘plonk’ (otherwise known as ‘madman's soup’) by the quart does it in quiet spots or at home.

1940 A. L. Haskell Waltzing Matilda 37 Fortified red wine of the kind that inebriates with speed and economy is ‘pinky’ or ‘plonk’.

1941 K. Tennant Battlers ix. 104 ‘Keep off the plonk,’ Thirty-Bob said in an undertone to the Stray. ‘They just spilt some on my boot and it burnt a hole.’

1946 D. Stivens Courtship of Uncle Henry 72 Jessie's been on the plonk again.+ Goes round the wine bars at the Cross.

1949 Here & Now (N.Z.) Oct. 9/1 Rows of gaudily-labelled bottles of local ‘plonk’ stacked on shelves behind the bar.

1950 ‘N. Shute’ Town like Alice 322 He asked me if I would drink tea or beer or plonk. ‘Plonk?’ I asked. ‘Red wine,’ he said.

1953 A. Upfield Murder must Wait viii. 76 Mother gallivants about to plonk parties+plonk being Alice McGorr's designation of a sherry party.

1965 New Statesman 3 Dec. 873/3, I do not eat in restaurants, travel first-class, or buy fillet steak. But there are cheaper cuts of meat, and wine, though mostly poor plonk stuff in the South, is cheap enough.

1967 Daily Tel. 15 Nov. 21/8 Surely the word ‘plonk’ is onomatopoeic, being the noise made when a cork is withdrawn from the bottle?

1968 Listener 1 Aug. 134/3 Over the numerous bars were texts urging moderation and adverts pushing the cheapest and most potent plonk in Britain.

1970 Times 23 Mar. 25/5 Sales of his newly introduced Vin Plonque, or ‘plonk’ in the British vernacular, are soaring.

1973 E. McGirr Bardel's Murder ii. 29 A Miss Traylor, aged seventy, intelligent and given to plonk.

1976 Scotsman 24 Dec. (Weekend Suppl.) 3/6 The author is particularly scathing about Sainsbury's Spanish plonk, but does not mention the same chain's better-than-average range of Hocks and Moselles.

1977 Time Out 21 Jan. 3/3 Your review of ‘party plonk’+misses out the largest ‘chain’ of off-licences in London, the independents who belong to no chain.

1979 Globe & Mail (Toronto) 25 Aug. 10/6 The only other customer was a construction worker who was buying a bottle of white plonk for about $1.40.


This footnote was appended to a long piece on the benefits of drinking plonk, which included some great insults about bad wines:

In Defense of Plonk.

There are five excellent reasons for at least trying "plonk" in my opinion:

1. Tasting bad wine is very educational; one is forced to identify why the wine is plonk.

2. On occasion, I've found that the failure was in me -- wine I disliked I simply didn't understand. (Increasing the store of self knowledge is never a bad thing.)

3. Less often, I've found that another person's "plonk" greatly appeals to me, since tastes are so personal and unpredictable.

4. As a contrarian, trying plonk from time to time appeals to my sense of adventure.

5. Finally, if the wine is truly plonk, it's great fun to try to describe its vileness adequately; after all, it's much more difficult to describe a really good wine. But the standard is very high -- there are some marvelous examples in the literature:

Cheap California cooking sherry with a shot of rump roast in it.
Chris Coad, WLDG, March 29, 1999, on a Jamaican wine.

First whiff off-putting, hydrogen sulfide, hen droppings, iodine, but recovered, crisp, trying hard to be fragrant.
Michael Broadbent on 1977 Château Gloria in New Great Vintage Wine Book, 1991.

I long for the day I'm scanning one of these phone books and something jumps off the page like: "Complex nose of Bazooka with creamy undertones of Fluffernutter; gobs of Moon Pie in the mouth intertwined with green Gummi Bears and hedonistic hints of Ricola cough drops. Intense lingering finish of Pez and Altoids." I'd run out and buy a case of whatever overpriced, over-oaked, over-octaned muck it was, right there.
Tony Hendra, “Forbes Magazine”, Fall 1998 FYI.

Is not the gleaning of the grapes of Ephraim better than the vintage of Abiezer? Judges 8:2.

My champagne was firmly strapped down and off we went back to the war…. It must be admitted it was not very good champagne. It must equally be acknowledged that having been shaken up all day (a Sherman [tank] is no limousine) and lying on the equivalent of a red hot Aga did not do too much to improve it. But we were not so sophisticated in those days and it was better than army tea.
Peter Carrington, Cyril Ray, Compleat Imbiber No. 14, 1989.

One of the rarest vintages, 1965, is a year that rivals the worst of the century in Bordeaux. Recently a private collection in Baltimore came up for sale and it was a shock to see the surprising quantities of 1965 Bordeaux that had been cellared. I wonder if the owner died naturally, or whether the wines killed him! At first glance, this 1965 Mouton looks promising because of its medium garnet color with only slight amber at the edge. However, one whiff of the nose reveals the problems of the 1965 vintage. The odor of rotten garbage, stale mushrooms, and stewed fruit is appalling. Because of its "educational value," I was willing to put this wine in my mouth. I just had to see what might be there given the frightful smell. I found the wine to be exceptionally high in acidity, with an artificial, cloying, disjointed character. Although the wine had some fruit, glycerin, and body, it was undrinkable.
Robert Parker, rating the 1965 Mouton at 50.

Roses stuffed up a goat’s ass.
Fran Kysela on Bandol, quoted by Jason Brandt Lewis on WLDG, March 28, 1999

The vinous equivalent of Liquid Plumber.
Robert Parker rating a Tepusquet Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 52; why the two points?

Thin, boring and with no breeding. I don’t know why they bother to make it.
Serena Sutcliffe, Burgundy.

Watch out when the auctioneer calls some 19th century wine ‘a graceful old lady whose wrinkles are starting to show through layers of make-up.’ That means the wine is undrinkable, and some fool will spend $500 for it.
Robert Parker, quoted in Bottled Wisdom, compiled and edited by Mark Pollman, 1998.

White Zin is generally zinfandel stripped of all its character, and any chardonnay poor enough to go into this blend rather than a varietally labeled chardonnay has got to be the absolute bottom of the, uh, barrel. The wine is remarkable for possessing absolutely no aroma whatsoever, and in addition to its flabby and sticky Kool-Aid flavors there's that not-so-subtle hint of toasted vanilla from the oak. Irony alert: this wine wholesales for $6.66 per bottle, which is appropriate for this oenological spawn of Satan.
Thor Iverson, Boston Phoenix, November 1998.

And finally, the piece de resistance, Robin has brought his highly-allocated stash of Moet Nectar Imperiale NV Demisec Champagne France. We all wait breathlessly, our glasses poised, as Eden pops the cork. Pours all around! We toast our electronic host and savor the sweet, impossible-to-find nectar. I won't burden you all with yet another note on this one, but suffice to say we were all quite moved, none more so than Joe, who held his glass up to the light and wistfully compared the fat bubbles to "catfish floating up after the dynamite."
Chris Coad, WLDG.

‘I rather like bad wine’, said Mr. Mountchesney, ‘one gets so bored with good wine.’
Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil; or, The Two Nations, 1845.

A man need close his eyes and clench his teeth, wry-mouthed and shuddering, and filtering the stuff rather than drinking.
Anonymous chronicler of the court of Hentry II.

One half-pint bottle serves them both to dine,
And is at once their vinegar and wine.
Alexander Pope.

The wine
was sour
and
squalid
like
bad breath
on a good goose
with bad teeth.
Norman Mailer, Gourmandise, 1971.

The foul beverage itself tasted of vinegar, blue ink and curry powder, bus such a bald description gave no hint of the shock, or disappointemnt, even the sadness of such a discovery.
Auberon Waugh, reference lost.

Her stories about [the German composer Johannes] Brahms’s rudeness and wit amused me in particular. For instance, I loved the one about how a great wine connoisseur invited the composer to dinner. This is the Brahms of my cellar, he said to his guests, producing a dust-covered bottle and pouring some into the master s glass. Brahms looked first at the color of the wine, then sniffed its bouquet, finally took a sip, and put the glass down without saying a word. Don t you like it? asked the host. Hmm, Brahms muttered. Better bring your Beethoven!
Arthur Rubinstein, My Young Years.

The liquid had lost all its vinosity and had acquired the nauseous flavor which I should conceive a diluted mixture of creosote and pteroleum to possess.
Henry Vizetelly on a Madira.

[Claret is so weak that] a man would be drowned by it before it might make him drunk.
Samuel Johnson, quoted by Boswell, reference misplaced.

[My first impression was] that it was going to be a very great wine; but the impression did not last. It faded away in some unaccountable fashion; there was no life left: something like kissing a ghost; red lips that vanish the moment yours are going to meet them.
Andre Simon on an 1865 Leoville.

Their wine is the poison of dragons, and the cruel venom of asps.
Deuteronomy 32:33.

I see your silver shining town
But I know I can't go there
Your streets run deep with poisoned wine
Your doorways crawl with fear.
Grateful Dead, Pride of Cucamonga, Lyrics by Bobby Peterson, Music by Phil Lesh.

No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist
Wolf’s-bane, tight-rooted; for its poisonous wine.
John Keats, Poems, Ode on Melancholy, Stanza 1.

Bacchus, that first from out the purple grape
Crush'd the sweet poison of misused wine.
John Milton, Comus, 1634, Bartlett’s Quotations 1901 edition.

A longer tale about Mateus Rosé captures much of what I like about plonk.

Victor de la Serna posted an amusing story about Mateus Rosé on WLDG in January 1999 (retold here with his consent):

“New Year's Folly - VS 07 Jan 99 - 04:13

“Away from cyberland and in the nice sun of the Costa del Sol for some days, I'm back with a story that I'm sure holds a lesson for everyone.

“Good fried fish but poor wine selection down in southern Spain. So we're in a tavern at Torremolinos and I see the dismal list of whites available and I say, ‘Heck, this is so bad and we're having a very informal dinner, so I'll order a Mateus Rosé for the first time in 25 years, what the heck, we're on vacation!’

“I must say to my wife's and even my kids' credit that they threatened with moving to another table, but I insisted, ‘Hey, this is all good fun, it'll make us feel younger, and it can't be poisonous!’ So I did order it.

“It was corked.”
Victor de la Serna, WLDG, January 7, 1999.

Many WLDG posters commented on Victor’s wonderful story. I was particularly impressed with my own sarcastic comment: “Right ... for all the wrong reasons! Great tale. Thanks.” And yet, as I followed Victor’s advice to learn a lesson from his story, I began to wonder if I’d been fair to an old friend. When I went off to the University of Wisconsin many years ago, my pantheon was lab alcohol, tap beer, Hamm’s beer (“From the land of sky blue waters!”), Heinekens, Lancer’s and, on really important dates, Mateus.

Like Fraiser before a blind date (“Lafite, don’t fail me now.”), I sometimes wondered how things would turn out with the other libations. But not with Mateus. Mateus was always a sure thing, expensive but sure fire. So, in an effort to make amends to an old friend, here are several Wine Quotes honoring Mateus Rosé. I particularly like the last example, from the days when Mateus was about to become a factor in English and American culture.

Americans have a habit of making fun of those wines which are most successful, to the point that folks become self-conscious about drinking them. White Zinfandel is one of the few survivors, and many of its original fans have switched to more fashionable fad wines, like some of the new drier roses. If you're old enough, you'll remember when Mateus and Lancer's roses from Portugal were all the rage and on virtually every wine list in America. Then they became the butt of jokes, and were soon forgotten.
Jerry Mead, June 1998, Mead on Wine on the Web.

Here it is!!!!! Wine connoisseur Nigel Allen's best wines of all-time!!!!!!!
1) Blue Nun (nutty fruity taste -- or was that fruity nutty -- I forgot.
2) Glen Ellen (a great way to look classy at a pot luck).
3) Mateus (a classic, love that bottle!)
4) Maneshevitz (no, I don't know how to spell it, "go with the '92," says Nigel.
5) MD 20/20 (enhances vision).
6) Boone's Farm (for the aging hippie degenerate IN YOU!).
Fortune Magazine, November, 1998.

My father passed away in 1959, and I inherited the liquor store he had founded in 1934 and operated on 23rd street in Madison Avenue in New York City.
I was never enamored of the liquor-store business, and I considered selling it, and pursuing something else.
Then a glass of wine, and the man -- Ray Milland -- intersected with my plans, altering my life forever. I went to see a picture starring him. At the time he was handsome, debonair, sophisticated, one of the leading men of the time.
One scene mesmerized me: He poured himself a glass of wine – Mateus -- and drank it with fitting stylishness. It struck me as the quintessence of sophistication and just blew me away. Never mind that the Mateus was a quite ordinary rose that I later learned was favored by hippies on drugs; I perceived it my way.
I decided to try to convert the store into a place where the Ray Millands of the world could purchase their wine.
D. Sokolin, The Wine Investor, 1998 re-issue.

I was most interested to find both Sacheverell Sitwell and Evelyn Waugh showing enthusiasm for Mateus Rosé. … [When Waugh] dismisses [Mateus] as ‘sugary pink fizz”, I think he undervalues it as an introduction to wine-drinking. Plenty of youngsters and ex-youngsters from among those unlucky enough not to have had a father prepared to start them on first-growth clarets in the holidays from prep school, have use Mateus as a staging-post on the way to more interesting destinations. And does anyone really want a seriously edifying vin rosé to wash down a summer lunch?
Kingsley Amis, Introduction to Cyril Ray’s Compleat Imbiber, No. 14.

The great and good John Arlott used to give a splendid and highly circumstantial account of how Mateus came to be marketed in the UK. (The last line was, ‘And he lived long enough to know he’d passed up eleven million quid.’)
Kingsley Amis, Introduction to Cyril Ray’s Compleat Imbiber, No. 14.

Evelyn Waugh once discovered a new enthusiasm for the red wines of Germany; even more shaming than that, he came back from Rhodesia one day announcing a new discovery from Portugal called Mateus Rosé, and drank it through one whole summer. Whenever challenged with this, I loyally maintain that the Mateus Rosé of the late ‘50s was a quite different wine from the sugary pink fizz of today, but I do not honestly know where the truth lies.
Auberon Waugh, My Father’s Cellar [Evelyn Waugh].

Among the delights of Portugal are the unfamiliar wines upon the wine lists. Particularly good are some of the light vinhos verdes, which belie their name and are more often red than the palish white which goes for green. But there is one wine that is altogether exceptional, and that comes from the remote northern province of Tras-os-Montes.

This is the most delicious vin rosé I have ever tasted. It is called Mateus, and it may be that the view of the lovely villa of that name, near Vila Real, which is upon the label, makes the wine taste even better. For the villa has a façade of granite and white stucco, and many urns and statues. But what is unique in this wine is that it is the colour of orangeade, and slightly pétillant. Let no one despise it for its colour! Mateus is delicious beyond words; and since I am told that it will travel and is exported to Brazil, it is a pity that one cannot buy it here in England .
Sacheverell Sitwell, The Sunday Times, 1951, quoted in Cyril Ray’s Compleat Imbiber, No. 14.
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Thomas » Sat Dec 23, 2006 6:10 pm

Lovely reading, Bob. Thanks.

Everytime I hear the word "plonk" I think of Rumpole.
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Dec 23, 2006 6:13 pm

I posted my researches on an Australian website and got some amusing input here.

Incidentally, there's a good discussion of the word and its history here. I particularly like the reason given for the gap between the use of the word in Australia thirty years before it appeared in England:

'Plonk started to become known in the UK only in the 1950s, partly because ordinary Brits started to drink wine, and in part because of increased exposure to Australian English, of which one factor may have been Nevil Shute’s well-known novel about Australia, A Town Like Alice of 1950, in which it appears."

Regards, Bob
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Bob Ross » Sat Dec 23, 2006 7:43 pm

Me too, Thomas. His bar bill at Pommeroy's was filled with "Pommeroy's Plonk", "Pommeroy's Very Ordinary", "Chateau Thames Embankment", and "Chateau Fleet Street". Your post made me smile. :)
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Dan Smothergill » Mon Dec 25, 2006 3:45 pm

Ask and you will receive. Thanks everyone.
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Paul Winalski » Mon Dec 25, 2006 8:14 pm

Bob,

Thanks for all the great negative tasting notes.

I once bought a bottle of the Tepusquet cabernet sauvignon that Parker awarded a 52 to a tasting with friends. The vineyard apparently had a good reputation for selling excellent fruit to other wineries, but this was the first time they'd tried vinifying and bottling wine themselves. I got it at a wine store that was usually very good for having quality selections.

The wine set a record for shortest time from sip to spit bucket. We then disputed Parker's "vinous equivalent of Liquid Plumber" tasting note. Liquid Plumber is safe to pour down the drain. We argued over whether the Tepusquet might damage the pipes. Eventually we did pour it down the drain, though. The other option was to pour it outside, and we decided it would probably kill the bushes and damage the lawn.

My guess as to why Parker awarded it two points: he was probably grateful that it wasn't actually toxic.

Apparently that store's wine buyer was having a bad spell around that time, because they were selling another very bad wine around the same time. This was Chateau St. Jean's first attempt at making sparkling methode champanoise wine (vintage '87, I think it was). The grapes had apparently been harvested way too early in an attempt to keep the acidity up. I know that vegetal flavors are common with wine made from unripe grapes, but I hadn't realized the pinot noir and chardonnay were capable of producing aromas of boiled cabbage and overcooked asparagus! It was a real shock, especially given how good St. Jean's still wines can be.

-Paul W.
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Thomas » Mon Dec 25, 2006 10:17 pm

Paul Winalski wrote:Bob,

Thanks for all the great negative tasting notes.

I once bought a bottle of the Tepusquet cabernet sauvignon that Parker awarded a 52 to a tasting with friends. The vineyard apparently had a good reputation for selling excellent fruit to other wineries, but this was the first time they'd tried vinifying and bottling wine themselves. I got it at a wine store that was usually very good for having quality selections.

The wine set a record for shortest time from sip to spit bucket. We then disputed Parker's "vinous equivalent of Liquid Plumber" tasting note. Liquid Plumber is safe to pour down the drain. We argued over whether the Tepusquet might damage the pipes. Eventually we did pour it down the drain, though. The other option was to pour it outside, and we decided it would probably kill the bushes and damage the lawn.

My guess as to why Parker awarded it two points: he was probably grateful that it wasn't actually toxic.

Apparently that store's wine buyer was having a bad spell around that time, because they were selling another very bad wine around the same time. This was Chateau St. Jean's first attempt at making sparkling methode champanoise wine (vintage '87, I think it was). The grapes had apparently been harvested way too early in an attempt to keep the acidity up. I know that vegetal flavors are common with wine made from unripe grapes, but I hadn't realized the pinot noir and chardonnay were capable of producing aromas of boiled cabbage and overcooked asparagus! It was a real shock, especially given how good St. Jean's still wines can be.

-Paul W.


I recently opened a Moroccan plonk that could be confused with red nail polish, if only it were as good...
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Re: Etymology of Plonk

Postby Paul Winalski » Tue Dec 26, 2006 1:49 am

Thomas wrote:
Paul Winalski wrote:I recently opened a Moroccan plonk that could be confused with red nail polish, if only it were as good...


What--too pink on the nails, or the the color chipped too much? :twisted:

-Paul W.
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