Dwanky or Dwankie - someone or something that is lame, stupid, uncool, or generally undesirable. Generally used as an insult or in a derogatory way. Zef slang. Can be used as both a noun: "Look at those dwankies over there!" and an adjective "That’s dwanky."

That’s a word we have in South Africa, “dwanky.” It’s like lame. - Spin Magazine Feb 2012

What is the etymology of the term "dwanky?" Is it derived from another word?

  • 1
    Never heard the term but I assume it’s some combination of dweeb and wanker ?
    – Jim
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 1:03
  • 2
    Never heard it before, but many terms of this nature are simply contortions of other words or phrases. Eg, someone might have taken "wonky" and added the "dw" sound to the front, just for fun, then decided that changing the "o" to "a" sounded better.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 1:05
  • Or, of course, it might be an affected way of saying "donkey". There are simply too many possibilities, and the origin is almost certainly lost in the subculture.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 1:38
  • 3
    I have no evidence other than observation and speculation, and so no answer per se, but 'dwankie | dwanky' likely is a (semi)phonetic spelling of 'dwang' (slang: "muck, trouble"), where the final 'g' is an unvoiced velar fricative, and the added 'y' or 'ie' ending is the well-known suffix meaning "full of" or "having the qualities of". 'Dwang', meaning "muck, trouble", is in turn likely a meaning evolved from Dutch 'dwang', meaning "force, compulsion, constraint".
    – JEL
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 6:09
  • @BladorthinTheGrey Good edits. Thanks very much for your contribution.
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 17:13

1 Answer 1


Popular definitions of 'dwankie'/'dwanky'

With regard to dwankie, a glossary of South African slang appended to Patricia Rice, Twin Genius: Family Genius Mystery #4 (2016) includes the brief entry:

Dwankie—noun or adjective: uncool

Urban Dictionary offers this submission for dwankie from tokoloshe, posted on February 15, 2012:

Dwankie South African zef [white lower-middle-class] term for someone or something that is lame, stupid, retarded, or just generally sucky to the max. Can be used as both a noun and an adjective. [Usage examples:] You fokken dwankie. The world has gone totally dwankie. That was dwankie, this was dwankie, he's dwankie/ a dwankie, etc...

And the same online resources has this submission for dwanky from StarKiller, posted on August 21, 2012:

Dwanky Lame or Loser. [Usage example:] Stop being "dwanky" man.

Dictionary entries for 'dwang'/'in the dwang' and some Google Books matches

One older reference work gives a possible Afrikaans etymology for a similar-sounding slang term, dwang, used in the slang phrase "in the dwang." Here is the entry for that term in Jonathon Green, Chambers Slang Dictionary (2008):

dwang n. {in phrases} in the dwang {Af[ri]k[aans] dwing, to force; but note dial[ectal] Scot[tish] dwang, to struggle, to oppress} {1990s+} (S[outh] Afr[ica]) in trouble, in difficulties, constrained.

Eric Partridge & Paul Beale, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, eighth edition (1984) has this entry for the same phrase:

dwang, in the. In grave trouble, 'in the shit': Services', esp. RAF, mostly in the Middle and Far East: since late 1930s. (Based upon usage evidence supplied by Mr. A.G.E. Jones, 1974.) Still current in 1970s. [Citing Squadron Leader G.D. Wilson, RAF Leuchars (1979).]

Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (2014) offers yet another possible source of the word dwang:

dwang noun a short piece of timber inserted between wall studs New Zealand, 1988. in the dwang in trouble. From Afrikaans for "constraint". South Africa, 1994

The earliest Google Books match for the phrase is from Andy De Klerk, In Search of the Strange: And Other Tales of South Africans at Large (2004) [combined snippets]:

Quarter past one on Monday morning. I woke in a sweat. There was jagged lightning striking the peaks above, thunder bounced through the gorge and the drizzle had mutated into a cloudburst. My cosy overhang had become a stream. I lit a candle and tried to get everything to a dry place and thought, 'oh shit, we're in the dwang.'

But Tom Dalzell & Terry Victor, The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, second edition (2015) includes citations from 1988 (for the New Zealand wall stud support sense of dwang):

Fitted over the exposed wooden dwangs inside corrugated iron walls, it becomes hooks upon which one may hang hats —(Wellington) Dominion, p. 8, 23 July 1988

and from 2001 (for the longer phrase "in the dwang"):

[If Mum and] Dad catch you out of bed you'll be in the dwang. —Alexandra Fuller, Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight, p. 212, 2001

Fuller's book is subtitled "An African Childhood," and her use of "in the dwang" appears in a remembered conversation between her and her fourteen-year-old sister in the late 1980s in Zambia, though earlier in her life she lived in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and her parents were British.

Where did 'dwankie'/'dwanky' come from?

The simplest possibility is that dwanky/dwankie arose from in the dwang in South Africa. If you think of the former as meaning "crappy" and the latter as meaning "in deep crap," the connection seems tolerably strong.

But other sources find the expression in use earlier than any mention of it appears in a Google Books match connected in any way to South Africa (or Zambia). And even if G.D. Wilson's memory of "in the dwang" from 1939 as conveyed to Eric Partridge in 1979 isn't trustworthy, we still have Partridge's inclusion of "in the dwang" in his 1984 dictionary.

So dwankie/dwangy could have emerged from "in the dwang" in South Africa around 2012 and yet still not indisputably have come from an Afrikaans root word. In the absence of clearer evidence of its roots than I've been able to find, I would list its etymology as uncertain.

  • Fantastic answer. Thanks very much for taking the time out.
    – Lumberjack
    Commented Dec 22, 2016 at 17:14

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