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Today's Bad Machinery, in which Charlotte and Mildred explore a wormhole into the past (?) under the fume hood in their school's chemistry lab, includes these panels:

The word dag(gy) was previously mentioned on LLOG, but at first I didn't grasp what Lottie meant.

The OED has this for daggy:

N.Z. Of a sheep or wool: clotted with dags.

slang (orig. and chiefly Austral.). Freq. depreciative. Dirty, scruffy. In extended use: contemptible, unacceptable; (esp. among schoolchildren) unfashionable, unattractive, socially undesirable.

From this cartoon, as well as from Ray Girvan's comment back in 2009, I infer that the colloquial usage has become widespread in the U.K. as well.



  1. Levantine said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 10:29 am

    I haven't actually heard any Brits use the word 'dag' and its derivatives, but many of us are familiar with it from Australian soap operas, which have been a staple of British tween/teen viewing since the '80s.

  2. Jayarava said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 11:15 am

    there are a lot of expats living here.

  3. peter said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 11:24 am

    NZer-become-Australian comedian John Clarke used the stage name "Fred Dagg" when he started as a comic, in what I took (in the mid-1970s) to be a clear reference to this Australian slang use of "daggy".

  4. Giles said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

    Yup, I definitely wouldn't expect to hear it from British-born people but I think most people here in the UK would understand it when an Australian used it.

  5. Jason said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

    Daggy may have once meant "dirty, scruffy" but it hasn't for a long time. In Australian English, it's virtually synonymous with "dorky" or "square". If anything, daggy people in the 90s were excessively well groomed. It's not "extended use", it's the core meaning of the word.

    Mind you this is the same dictionary that claimed "to burgle" was "jocular" well into the early 2000s. Things change slowly at the OED.

  6. Sjiveru said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 2:46 pm

    This is a comic with quite a lot of examples of interesting usage (at least interesting to someone who is far more familiar with American colloquial speech than British).

  7. Ray Girvan said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

    @Mark Liberman: "I infer that the colloquial usage has become widespread in the U.K."

    I wouldn't count my previous comment as a data point for this. I only knew it from Australian fiction (the "Nino Culotta" books).

  8. Rube said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

    Personally, I'm as intrigued by "huge manga hair" as "daggy".

  9. Christopher Hodge said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 3:50 pm

    Daggy? I don't think I would have missed this word becoming widespread on my island.

  10. Victor Mair said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

    For those who might be mystified by "wormhole":




  11. Martin B said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 4:43 pm

    Yes, as an Australian I would agree that the OED definition quoted above needs serious revision. 'Dirty' really misses the mark. 'Contemptible' is way too strong; 'dag/gy' can easily be used as a term of endearment. 'Socially undesirable' is closest.

    [As I understand the etymology, 'dags' are the faeces-encrusted balls of gunk that accumulate on a sheeps tail, hence, I presume, the cited meaning of 'dirty'.]

    I, too, pased right over 'daggy' and expected this to be about 'manga hair' :-)

    [(myl) Sorry to disappoint — I thought that part was obvious :-)]

  12. AntC said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 4:47 pm

    (NZ'er speaking; emigrated here from the UK ~18 years ago.)
    I don't remember ever hearing dagg(y) in the UK back then, but it's familiar/informal in NZ.
    I can't agree with @Jason: daggy still means scruffy/somewhat distasteful. Certainly not dorky.
    OTOH (S)He's a bit of a dagg., or What a dagg! is an indulgent approbation. (cp the discussion on ornery.) Eccentric, a hard case, bizarre but lovable withal.

  13. richard said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

    I have to say, I truly appreciate the web comics you-all have introduced me to through this blog. Although that probably wasn't one of the reasons you started blogging originally, I think you should add "revealing fine web comics through their linguistic features" to the official Language Log mission statement.

  14. The Ridger said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

    @Rube: Her "huge manga hair" is emphatically NOT her "daggy hair". She has been forced by her friend to tame her "manga hair" into those braids, which she thinks are "daggy", because the "manga" hair won't pass muster "in history". (They're preparing to go into the past. And I *think* they're in the Blitz! Cliffhanger tomorrow!!)

  15. The Ridger said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 5:26 pm

    Dang it, Rube. I misread your comment – missed the first "as". Never mind.

  16. Martin B said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 5:45 pm


    No, I agree with Jason. 'Daggy' *may* mean 'scruffy' but it need not. Someone who turned up to a casual party in dirty t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops/thongs/jandals could certainly be described as daggy. But someone who turned up to the same party clean-shaven with unfashionable tie on a shirt that is tucked into well-pressed trousers riding high on his waist could also be so described.

  17. Nathan Myers said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 7:03 pm

    The comic is set in Wales, if that makes any difference.

    On the topic of whether "ornery" and "daggy" are endearments, I note that appending, "Bless her heart" can make any disapprobation unobjectionable. "She's a thieving, ornery old puppy-drownder, bless her heart." It doesn't necessarily nullify the criticism, but it deflects all defense.

  18. Vireya said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

    Daggy meant unfashionable in my school days. In those days of mini-skirts, if your school uniform was at the regulation length you were a dag. At a school where the uniform included brown socks, brown socks were daggy, and you tried to wear socks as light as possible. Then I moved to a school where the uniform socks were white and found that there brown socks were desirable and white ones were daggy.

    There was no hint of "dirty, scruffy" in the way we used "dag" then (late 60s – early 70s), and I haven't noticed one since. So maybe that's a difference between AU and NZ.

  19. Levantine said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 7:44 pm

    Unless I'm mistaken, the comic is actually set in Tackleford, a fictional West Yorkshire city. The writer, John Allison, is from North Yorkshire. I Googled to see if 'dag(gy)' had managed to implant itself in this region of England, and I couldn't find any evidence that it had (as a Londoner, I'm not exactly qualified to say anything more definitive). If my rather cursory look at a couple of discussion forums is anything to go by, a good number of Brits are familiar with the term but instantly recognise it as Antipodean slang. I found several mentions of the daytime Australian soap Neighbours, which is probably more popular in the UK than in Australia, and whose viewership peaked at precisely the time that Allison (b. 1976) was a teen. Even if he himself was not a viewer, it is not unlikely that he heard examples of TV-derived Ozzie slang being repeated by his friends. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I myself used to watch the show after school, and 'dag' was a word I always looked forward to hearing (though I can't remember ever having used it, or heard it used, in real life).

  20. weaver said,

    August 8, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

    The noun "dag", which in Australia is now closest to the pejorative sense of "nerd" as a socially awkward, unstylish person, but without the enfolded suggestion of obsessive expertise (as in, yes, "dork", I suppose), originally meant something akin to slang like "joker", "comedian" or "wise-ass". Originally being back in the '20s or so, up to the '60s. The term still had that meaning in NZ as late as the 1990s, at least judging by the way my kiwi flatmate of the time talked, and he was barely in his twenties so not a user of antique slang. Thus John Clarke's usage probably owes more to that (or perhaps the more literal meaning referring to sheep, given Fred Dagg was a sheep farmer.)

  21. Matt said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 12:39 am

    If "daggy (of a person)" ever meant "dirty, scruffy", this was surely a direct extension from "daggy (of a sheep)". But as other commentators have said, the more common usage of "daggy (of a person)" today is an independent reinvention of the word based on "dag (=unfashionable person)", not "dag (=clot on a sheep's fleece)" and therefore doesn't necessarily imply dirtiness, scruffiness, etc.

  22. Chris Waugh said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 1:30 am

    One more dagg saying: I remember my father often telling me
    "rattle your daggs", meaning "hurry up", when I was a child. He was born in provincial North Island in the early 50s, me in Wellington in the mid 70s, for those trying to figure out the evolution of the word.

    Ah, Neighbours, terrible show. I dont' recall ever hearing the word 'dag' on it, but then again I doubt 'dag' would've stuck out at me, and I did try and avoid watching it. I suppose for those of my age who grew up in Britain 'dag' and other features of Strine probably stuck out like a dog's bollocks. I do recall hearing that Neighbours introduced Australasian rising intonation at the end of a statement to Britain, causing much confusion for older Brits who couldn't figure out why the yoof only ever asked questions.

  23. David Morris said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 5:28 am

    In country Victoria in the mid-late 1970s, 'daggy' was definitely 'unfashionable' eg wearing one's trousers too high on the waist and/or white socks. Definitely not 'dirty'.

  24. David Morris said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 8:52 am

    Another Australian slang term with slightly longer heritage is 'drongo'. Today, the extension activity (after describing humans – famous people, themselves and each other) was to describe aliens (drawings given in the teachers book – recognisably humanoid, but slightly weird in various ways). Each alien was given an English-ish name (that is, phonotactic, pronouncable but not a real name), one of which was 'Drongo'. I noticed one student typing something into her electronic dictionary, so I asked her which word, and she pointed to 'Drongo' on the page. She just hasn't realised in general that names aren't in dictionaries, or hadn't in particular that 'Drongo' in this activity was a name. Deep sigh.
    Maybe I should have let her. The Australian slang term means "a 'fool', a 'stupid person', a 'simpleton'."

  25. Adrian Morgan said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 10:39 am

    Another Australian perspective: I don't think I've ever heard anyone my age (born 1977) or younger use the word "dag". Your typical user of the word is at least old enough to have started school in the seventies.

    I've heard it defined as "cheerfully unfashionable" — implying someone who embraces unfashionability as a deliberate lifestyle choice and wears it almost as a badge of pride.

  26. Jon Lennox said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 11:49 am

    The Ridger: Given that Calvin (who's from whenever they're going to) was going on and on about Communists, it seems unlikely that they're going back to the Blitz. The early Cold War seems more likely. (Doesn't explain why the interior of the school is trashed after they go through the wormhole, though.)

  27. Joe said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 1:28 pm

    You certainly see "Dagging Shears" for sale in the UK, so the (verb) "dag" (to clip away the matted fleece to prevent fly-strike – apparently) seems to exist in the UK, at least in someone's vocabulary (presumably that of farmers / small-holders, the people involved in the supply of the shears, and now, thanks to the power of Google search and Wikipedia, in mine too!)

    I don't think however that I have ever heard anyone other than a New Zealander use the adjective "daggy".

    Isn't the dialect word used for "bits of crap-matted fleece around a sheep's backside" supposed to be one of the key lexical variations used to map varieties of (English) English (like the dialect word you use for a bread roll), or did some English student spin me a tale over a pint many, many years ago?

  28. Nathan said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 3:06 pm

    I've worn white socks my entire life, including the 1970s. I've never before encountered the idea that this is weird or unfashionable. I think most people around me do the same. Of course, we are all Yanks. Are we daggy?

  29. Rube said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 3:26 pm

    @Nathan: depends, I suppose.

    Do you have a red neck? Do you drink Blue Ribbon beer?


  30. Joe said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 6:22 pm


    I think Pabst Blue Ribbon has enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance since then – at least in Brooklyn and San Francisco…

  31. David Morris said,

    August 9, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

    'Daggy' also had an element of 'unknowingly unfashionable' – no-one in my peer group was ever deliberately daggy.
    Apart from playing cricket, I haven't worn white socks since, and still don't, and probably never will.

  32. maidhc said,

    August 10, 2013 @ 3:27 am

    Richard Glover in the Sydney Morning Herald has an Election Edition of his "Dag's Dictionary", a collection of comic puns.


  33. Arekahanara said,

    August 10, 2013 @ 8:49 am

    @Chris Waugh. "Rattle your dags" is quite literal. When the faeces encrusted lumps clinging to the wool at the back end of a sheep dry out in hot dry weather they produce a clattering or rattling sound when the sheep run. Hence "rattle your dags." Sheep farmers in New Zealand periodically shear the wool around the back legs and the anus of the sheep to prevent dags from accumulating and becoming "fly blown" or infested with maggots. This shearing for hygiene purposes is called "crutching." Dag was a word used in the 70s mostly. My children would know what it means but wouldn't use it. My grandchildren would have know idea. A person was a "bit of a dag" if he or she was a bit eccentric or different in a humorous way. NZers would also describe a dag as being "hardcase." I have never heard the word "daggy" before.

  34. Ken Brown said,

    August 10, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

    I'm a Brit and I know but rarely use "dag" and "daggy" to mean matted wool or fur. I don't associate it with Australians at all but I'm of a pre-Neighbours age group. It seems like an unusual but not particularly odd word to use of knotted or uncombable hair. Probably slightly rude. I don't remember ever coming across the unfashionable/uncool meaning.

  35. Levantine said,

    August 10, 2013 @ 2:48 pm

    Ken Brown, what part of the UK are you from? It's fascinating to me that there are Brits whose knowledge of 'dag(gy)' doesn't come from Australian slang.

  36. David Morris said,

    August 11, 2013 @ 1:05 am

    Yesterday I visited my oldest sister, who is 4 years older than me and who was a high school for most of the 1970s. I wanted to ask her about her understanding of 'daggy', but before I did, she spontaneously used the word. She's just had her kitchen remodelled, and was telling us the other plans they've got including changing the bathroom taps because the existing ones are 'daggy and old-fashioned'. When I told her about this discussion, she agreed that 'daggy' means 'cheerfully and usually unknowingly unfashionable', but hinted at someone we both know now who is deliberately daggy, but not in a self-knowing, ironic way. I also asked my 20-year-old niece if she uses the word, and she said no, and whether she understands my sister/her mother when she says it, and she said yes.

  37. David Morris said,

    August 11, 2013 @ 1:06 am

    I hate spotting a typing error (especially one that makes literal nonsense) the moment after I click 'submit comment'.

  38. Rachael said,

    August 11, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    There's a children's book called Daggy Dogfoot, about a piglet who is a dag, which means a runt.
    I don't recognise the sheep-related sense, and I think I assumed the "unfashionable" sense was derived from the "runt" sense – someone who doesn't fit in and is seen as inferior to their peers.

  39. AntC said,

    August 11, 2013 @ 4:29 pm

    Strewth! yous unscientific lot. I'm disappointed that so many contributors should supply such poor quality data points. Rattle your daggs! Expect a stiffly-worded censure from myl, who is always scrupulous about provenance.
    No surprise that with a colloquial/slang term, we'd see different usage between Aus/NZ/UK/elsewhere. No surprise that for townies the term would have become disconnected from its farming use.
    My experience in NZ (and I heard 'bit of a dagg' used spontaneously on Saturday night, from a lifelong NZ'er, 67 years old, worked in sheep-farming communities all his life) is that everybody's very aware of the farming use, and regards that is primary. We still have a lot of sheep. Even I as a lifelong city-dweller am well aware of that.
    @too many to list individually: Where are you? And what language communities do you move in?

  40. Jane Griffiths said,

    August 12, 2013 @ 12:36 am

    I'm a Brit, born in the 1950s, and I understand "daggy" from the TV series Neighbours that my children watched. In the 1980s I had an NZ colleague who used the word to mean "uncool","unfashionable". I understand it that way but would not use it. "Manga hair" is much more recent though and as much Brit as anything. This century I read a blog which referred to a character (Brit) as "Manga Dave" and it was immediately understandable that this was because he had big hair.

  41. Lane said,

    August 12, 2013 @ 2:36 am

    A girl from New Zealand whom I dated for about a year (15 years ago) would sweetly say to me "you dag…" The affectionate mild abuse was clear from context, and I thought it was cute, until I asked her what a dag literally meant. Ugh. "Wait, you're calling me a clotted bit of poo *affectionately*?"

  42. Arekahanara said,

    August 12, 2013 @ 4:59 am

    @lane. It was a compliment, not mild abuse. She was saying you were a bit different in a humorous sort of way. A bit of a hardcase, a character, a dag. We NZers don't use the word that way with any thought of its literal fecal meaning. We are very literal when it comes to that. We would say "you're a piece of shit."

  43. Perez said,

    August 13, 2013 @ 12:28 am

    The words 'dag' and 'daggy' are definitely affectionate in my lexicon. You would never ever describe a sworn enemy as a dag.

    Also see the late Fred Ludowyck's excellent piece:

  44. Zythophile said,

    August 14, 2013 @ 5:01 pm

    My uncle, whose surname is Dagg, was distinctly unhappy when Neighbours popularised the word in the UK in the 1980s …

  45. Adam Rice said,

    August 16, 2013 @ 10:56 pm

    My wife, an American (no extensive contact with the UK or Australia) has used "daggy" in a very specific way for as long as I've known her: as she uses it, it means something like "dowdy" or "frumpy." It's a certain shapeless middle-aged non-style. There are chains of clothing store that she refers to as "dag-wear."

  46. David Morris said,

    August 19, 2013 @ 10:47 pm

    On Saturday night, watching the rugby union test between Australia and New Zealand, I consciously realised that one of the NZ players is named Israel Dagg.

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