Dag is an Australian and New Zealand slang term. In Australia, it is often used as an affectionate insult for someone who is, or is perceived to be, unfashionable, lacking self-consciousness about their appearance and/or with poor social skills yet affable and amusing. it is also used to describe an amusing, quirky and likeable person (as in, "He's a bit of a dag") and is non-pejorative. The term was more widely used in the 70s due to the popular New Zealand comedy of Fred Dagg (John Clarke).
Differentiated from bogans, whose accents are presumed to indicate working class or uneducated origins, dag refers to being unfashionable, eccentric and fool-like and hence has no necessary ties with social class or educational background.
The literal meaning is a dung-caked lock of wool around the hindquarters of a sheep – an abbreviation of "daglock".
Originally a word meaning the dried faeces left dangling from the wool on a sheep's rear end, the word dag is more commonly used in colloquial Australian English to refer to someone's unfashionable, often eccentric or idiosyncratic style or demeanor together with poor social skills and amusing manner.
This colloquial use of the term "dag" was first recorded in the Anzac Songbook in 1916 but has been popular since the 1970s. It has also been used interchangeably with the term "wag" as in "what a wag", which refers to the amusing aspect inherent in 'dag' but without referring to fashion or style.
This use of "dag" comes closest in meaning to the UK slang term "pillock" (meaning fool) but "dag" is differentiated from terms like dork, nerd or geek by virtue of having no particular association with a drive for intellectual pursuits or interest in technology and no particular tendency towards being a loner. It is also used differently in that it can be an affectionate term as much as, or even more than, an insult. However, one can simultaneously fit the archetype for a dag and a geek, dork or nerd.
Whilst "bogan" refers to being unfashionable in the slovenly sense, it is distinguished from "dag" in that the term "bogan" has no necessary links with being eccentric, idiosyncratic or amusing. Similarly, the more antisocial behaviours associated with bogans are usually not found amusing and are more associated with terms like yobbo.
Dags in the media
In film, adult autistic characters are often portrayed as dags in terms of being socially inept and oblivious to fashion. In the film Rain Man, the main character's, fixations on labels and tendency to say the socially unacceptable and his rather stiff dress sense with his top shirt button always done up is an archetypal example of 'daggy' behavior demonstrating his lack of awareness of mainstream dress codes and style. Similarly, the klutzy, quirky, socially naive behaviors of the main characters with ASD in the film Mozart and the Whale follows this same line.
TV series like Ugly Betty (in which Betty portrays a blend of Geek and Dag) present her as the hero who ends up inspiring and changing others. Films and characters where the central dag character becomes the hero include Rachel Griffiths in Very Annie Mary, Toni Collette in Muriel's Wedding, Jane Horrocks in Little Voice, Julie Walters in Educating Rita, Amanda Plummer in The Fisher King and Audrey Tatou in Amélie.
Similar male dag-as-hero characters in film have included Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer and Punch-Drunk Love, Robin Williams in The Fisher King and Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump. Often the dag is portrayed as the lovable sidekick such as Rupert Grint as Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films.
Sometimes the dag as hero must transition to an admired superhero to be of best use to the world as exemplified in characters like Clark Kent in the Superman franchise, Robin in Batman, Peter Parker in Spider-Man and Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman.
The more usual storyline featuring a dag character is that in which the dag is helped to change by developing more usual social skills and style such as Anne Hathaway's character in The Devil Wears Prada, Drew Barrymore's character in Never Been Kissed, and Lindsay Lohan's character in Mean Girls and such story lines also have their male equivalents.
Other media personalities have fitted the dag archetype by nature more than role. Comic and naturalist Bill Oddie, environmentalist and TV personality Steve Irwin, and comedians Eric Idle and Spike Milligan have all displayed the idiosyncrasies commonly associated with affable dags.
The embarrassing nature of dag demeanor makes them disliked by some and loved by others for the same reasons. When Steve Irwin died, some Australians spoke of him as an embarrassing reflection on Australian culture whilst other Australians stood up for him as a lovable dag and particularly his overseas audience, celebrated his naturalness and affable nature.
The cultural confusion between the dag and bogan archetypes in the media is exemplified by the 1998 film, Dags, which whilst incorporating a few features of archetypal dag clothing style for the men, i.e.: long socks, Hawaiian shirts, sandals, has the women in tank tops and hot pants quite unassociated with the dag archetype, and portrays typical bogan archetypes throughout the film of slovenliness, substance abuse and indiscriminate sex.
A film with a dag as hero is very different from a daggy film. Daggy, being an adjective meaning unfashionable and silly, in the context of film, would be a film which is unfashionable to watch and of a silly or laughable nature.
Dag style is not by necessity slovenly.
A dag may, for example, choose to wear textures that feel nice regardless of how they look or wear something they have become attached to even if it's old and worn out. The emphasis, however, is on being unconventional rather than the slovenly archetype associated with the term "bogan".
Dags are considered amusing just by being themselves and attract feelings of either embarrassment or endearment from others.
Dag music tends to be that which one's age peers wouldn't accept or would find out of date. Similarly, dags may wear hair and clothing styles they enjoy even where these are considered unfashionable or ridiculous.
The term "dag" can be a compliment from one dag to another.
Dags are seen as enjoying activities regardless of their appearances to others. An example may be that teenage and adult dags may skip down the street or sing in the street just because it's fun regardless of the social consequences.
In addition to dag (as noun) and daggy (as adjective) is dagging (a verb associated with behaving in a daggy way).
- Dag as an affectionate insult http://australia.gov.au/about-australia/australian-story/austn-slang
- Culture soup - why Dags aren’t Bogans. | Donna Williams’ Blog
- Dictionary & Thesaurus - YourDictionary
- Tail of a Dag
- See Nerd.
- See Bogan.
- Australian English Glossary from A to Zed - Travelogue
- American Chronicle | Steve Irwin: US icon, Australian, environmentalist, Mensch
- Dags (1998)
- "daggy definition - Dictionary - MSN Encarta". Archived from the original on 2009-10-31.
- bullying with reference to dags http://www.bullyingnoway.com.au/ws/useful-other.shtml
- Australian slang - Australia's Culture Portal
- daggy, daggier, daggiest- WordWeb dictionary definition
-  blog entry about dags by Donna Williams
-  online dag-related dictionary.
- daggy definition - Dictionary - MSN Encarta (Archived 2009-10-31) Dag related definitions.
-  Dag listed as affectionate insult
-  Dag in NZ dictionary as 'amusing person'
-  examples of dag style quirks
-  dag as explained to Americans as 'geek', 'slob' or 'nut'
- Daggy and dag defined in Macquarie dictionary
- Sociocultural use of the colloquialism 'dag'
- history of 'dag' back to 1916
- daggy as dork, passe or unfashionable
- Dag in relation to fashion, style, behavior
- daggy as different from others, unwilling to conform
- dag as socially inept person
- dag as clown, joker, eccentric