Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Drang

Just across the road from my grandmother's house was a narrow footpath sandwiched between the cottage hospital and a residential area. My family always refered to this path as the drang. It was walled on both sides, and high enough to stop one seeing over, unless of course you were a small boy who liked climbing stone walls. There was another drang not too far away from my own home, this time between a cemetery and some houses, with wooden fencing on the side of the houses, and a thick hedge on the other.

I can't recall anyone outside of my own family referring to these paths as a drang, so I have often wondered whether it was a word they made up. I could never find it in a standard English dictionary. So recently I tried searching for a definition on the internet, and was surprised when I found it in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. This was interesting because I have a great great great granduncle who emigrated to Newfoundland, and his son returned to Somerset to live with my great great great grandfather in the 1890's.

Yesterday I finally remembered to stop by the reference library to see what I could find out about this word. The Oxford English Dictionary lists it as a variant of drong, and defines it as a narrow lane or passage. There are written references to it dating back to 1787, all coming from the west country counties of Cornwall, Devonshire, Dorset and Somerset. In 1863 the Dorset Glossary listed drong or drongway, a narrow way between two hedges or walls. Another reference in 1880-88 lists drang and drang-way.

Also in the library I found a copy of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English. One reference from 1858, "'The new priest in Conception Bay' , quoted 'the constable passed the drung that led up to his forge and dwelling..". More recently in 1972 - "There are 'drungs' (lanes) and roads shooting off in all directions....." . The online version has some supplementary entries from the 1980's.

All of these references indicate that the word is dialect, and suggest that it is derived from throng or thring, meaning crowded or pressed. Certainly the drangs I know were barely wide enough for two pedestrians to pass.

So, I'm curious just how common a word it was, or indeed if it is still in common use today. If you are familiar with the words drang, drong or drung, do please leave a comment.

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