“Fair Dinkum” Explored: Meaning and Origination

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Fair Dinkum: (pronounced in true Aussie form as fay-ah ding-kum). Originally meaning “fair drinking” by a less-than-sober gentleman, “fair dinkum” is one of many intriguing pieces of Australian vocabulary that has only recently been explained to me.

This post was originally published in 2009. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content. 
I’ve since had many (many!) Australian adventures and cultural observations, which you can peruse here.

In the course of a conversation with an Australian, various foreign words and phrases are regularly interwoven through sentences. These words and phrases tickle my ears in that they either do not quite make sense in their placement, while others yet are simply incomprehensible to me. I usually chuck it up to my own less-than-spectacular sense of hearing in addition to a sometimes thick Australian accent, and I simply let conversational bygones be bygones. (Contrary to popular Australian beliefs, I do not have an accent. The entire population of Australia, rather, does).

See also: Canadian versus Australian coins

But after hearing the term more than a few times, and then hearing Kelly try to incorporate it into his own vocabulary, I broke down and asked for the meaning. I got a few hums and haws, and was eventually given both the long and the short meaning of fair dinkum.

"fair dinkum" - Australian slang meaning

Short Meaning: If I am to understand correctly, fair dinkum is a statement of confirmation. It could be interchanged with “no, really!” or any other phrase that indicates that the speaker really means what they are saying. No legs are being pulled (as is a common pastime among Aussies), as fair dinkum implies that it is the real deal.

Long Meaning: After a long night of drinking at the pub (another common pastime here), a fight broke out. The fight escalated into an all-out brawl, which got ugly. One gentleman in particular, although incredibly drunk, found himself breaking up the fight and playing mediator. “Fair dinkum, fair dinkum” was his repeated mantra to the masses who were slowly coming around. What our hero was actually saying, however, was “fair drinking, fair drinking,” but between his drunken state and thick accent, it came out as fair dinkum. The phrase implied that everybody’s temper was heightened due to being drunk, but that all they were trying to do in the first place was have a few drinks and enjoy some camaraderie with others. “Fair drinking”, or fair dinkum, was what he encouraged everybody to get back to doing, and end this pointless fight that would lead to nothing but regret and pain the following day.

Although I could postulate on the relationship between the fair dinkum story and its contextual use today, this is the story as it was told to me and I would be spinning my own yarn by making assumptions. Suffice it to say that I am enjoying this knowledge and embrace of new words and phrases, as I continue to delve deeper down the Australian rabbit hole.

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13 thoughts on ““Fair Dinkum” Explored: Meaning and Origination”

  1. The real truth is: “Fair Dinkum” derives from the latin, “Veras De Cum”, shortened to “Ver De Cum”, meaning “with the truth”. Say is fast & slur a bit and it becomes Fair Dinkum…..

    george blok

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  2. ‘DING’ IS CANTONESE FOR NUGGET
    ‘KUM’ IS CANTONESE FOR GOLD.
    DING KUM MEANS GOLD NUGGET.

    EARLY GOLD SEEKERS INCLUDED MANY CHINESE, WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN SAYING DING KUM WHENEVER GOLD WAS FOUND.

    SINCE THIS IS AN AUSTGRALIAN ONLY EXPRESSION, IT SEEMS LIKELY THIS IS THE ORIGIN.

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  3. I love the Veras De Cum theory however, I have to say after living in multiple countries that have Latin based languages I always find that it is the Aussies that struggle most with the Latin languages like Italian and Spanish etc….. I am married to an Aussie and get to spend a few months there a year. I also like the second theory and find it more plausible than the first knowing the infusion of Asian culture there. I don not have a theory of my own yet, but somehow I believe that this is a true Aussie saying that may not derive from anything other than their own slang. it may be tied into something from the Aboriginal culture too, but My guess is that this particular phrase will remain of unknown origin. I also note that Fair Dinkum’s usage has begun to expand beyond the realm of the usage you explain it to have. Granted, your definition is right on the money but like all slang terminology it slowly begins to morph. I hear it being used outside of the definition you give and I am still struggling to understand exactly how they mean it when said. Great post. Thanks.

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    • Hi Kevin – I’m glad I’m not the only one who was a bit stumped by “fair dinkum”! Do you have an idea as to how the meaning and use of the phrase is changing?

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  4. You clowns are heartbreaking. Din gum in chineese means good gold.
    Fair din gum was a question they asked to see how much gold had been found in an area. That’s all there is to it. Don’t be coming up with theories as it is what it is already. The bar thing and fair drinking is the silliest shit I’ve heard and the Latin……Veras…..clutching at fucking straws mate. You have me ganging hoarded than a funnel web here. Way to make something working class Aussies say sound arrogant

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  5. Gerry, that folk etymology isn’t correct. Dinkum/dincum meaning “honest work” was being used in England in the 19th century, and appears in print there before it does in Australia.

    You may see this discussed in the wikipedia entry for Australian slang (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_English_vocabulary)
    “It originated with a now-extinct dialect word from the East Midlands in England, where dinkum (or dincum) meant “hard work” or “fair work”, which was also the original meaning in Australian English.” This reference is from the Australian National University (http://web.archive.org/web/20020511010247/http://www.anu.edu.au/ANDC/Ozwords/November_98/7._dinkum.htm).

    Also similar discussion here:
    http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/fair-dinkum.html

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  6. Dinkum meaning ‘honest work’ was being used in the Midlands, England in the 1800’s, a derivative of fair ‘days income’

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  7. Just heard on NatGeo People it originated in Australia’s gold mines by Chinese laborers. Comes from two Chinese words Ding and Kum which mean real and gold respectively.

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