Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Doney Gal = Sweetheart

doney-gal

“Doney-gal means sweetheart, an expression British sailors picked up in Spanish or Italian ports and preserved by backwoodsmen whose ancestors for two centuries never saw the tides.” 

-John Parris Roaming The Mountains

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Doney-gal isn’t a phrase I’m familiar with, I’ve never heard it, never even read it until I stumbled upon it in the book Roaming The Mountains.

Yet when I read the quote from Parris I immediately thought of the photo above. I snapped it a few years ago when the whole Blind Pig family was out for a winter hike. I love the image of the sunshine shinning its warmth on Chatter’s sweet ear, the pieces of her hair halo-ing her head.

Chatter was born with the sweetest disposition of any one I have ever met. I’m not putting Chitter down in any way shape or form, Chatter just has a special sweetness about her that I’ve rarely seen. When she was just a toddler I started telling her I thought she had a special gift of sweetness.

One day I found Chatter crying in her bed. Alarmed that she would be crying all alone at such a young age I asked her what in the world was wrong. She looked up at me with her tear streaked chubby little cheeks and said “Momma I’m afraid I’m losing my special sweet gift because I’ve been mean.” I grabbed her up, hugging her tightly, while I laughed and cried and did my best to explain that just because she had done something she shouldn’t have didn’t mean she had lost her sweet gift. I told her I was positive she’d never ever lose it and so far my prediction has been right.

Parris used the doney-gal quote in an article titled Mountain Idom Fading. In the years since he wrote the article I suppose the term has completely fallen away from the rich language of Appalachia-hence the reason I’ve never heard it.

I did a little googling around to see if I could find out any other details about the usage. I didn’t find much, but I did find a traditional song credited as being from Appalachia that uses the term. The song is titled Wedding Dress. I couldn’t find any historical information on it either.

The ultimate day for doney-gals is Valentine’s Day. Maybe we can make a come back of the usage by calling our own sweethearts, whether they be true sweethearts or simply sweet girls in our lives doney gals as part of our Valentine’s wish to them.

If you’d like to hear the song I found go here: Allan Block and Martha Burns, “Wedding Dress Song.”

Tipper

 

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26 Comments

  • Reply
    Brent Clayton
    February 14, 2019 at 1:07 pm

    Do you prounonce it Don-e?

    • Reply
      tipper
      February 14, 2019 at 1:25 pm

      Brent-yes that’s how I say it

  • Reply
    Steve
    February 14, 2019 at 11:57 am

    It could be a corruption of “bonnie gal”, but what about a connection to the Irish county and town Donegal? I doubt “dona”, since it refers to an elderly, matriarchal lady in Spanish.

    • Reply
      tipper
      February 14, 2019 at 1:27 pm

      Steve- thanks for the comment! Fascinating to think about where the word started!

  • Reply
    Linda Bates
    February 28, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    My grandmother Holloway, who was born and raised in Cherry Log Georgia, near Blue Ridge, was always called Doney although her name was Altha Arizona. We always wondered why she was called Doney and what it meant. For that matter, we also wondered why she was named Arizona.

  • Reply
    Amy in Texas-Zoo Mama
    February 6, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    “Dona” with a ~ over the n, I found it on “SpeakingLatino.com”. Here’s what it says:
    “doña: In Costa Rica this word can be use for girl or woman, but also for a girlfriend, wife or lover.”
    Betcha we just southernized it over the years, what do ya think? Sounds like something we’d do!
    Is “southernized” a word? It should be. =)

  • Reply
    Jen
    February 5, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    I love learning new things here, Tipper!

  • Reply
    Ken
    February 4, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Tipper,
    After viewing Pap at the Funeral, Cindy came over and sat beside me for awhile. She leaned over and whispered “you see Chatter up there at Pap’s feet? That’s as close as she’ll get.” I got up and gave Chatter a big hug. Sometimes a hug tells it all. She’s always nice and has a pretty smile for everyone. Nice picture too. …Ken

  • Reply
    Mrs K
    February 4, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    I first heard the term “doney-gal” at a house concert with Steve Gillette and Cindy Mangsen. It was from her album Songs of Experience. Love that song and wondered about that term.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 4, 2017 at 12:19 pm

    Tipper
    I’ve been rethinking this term…
    I’m a’thinkin’ that if you and Deer Hunter don’t keep a good look-see, that this very thing might just happen one day in your neck of the woods…especially around and about Valentine’s Day!
    Oh My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose
    by (Scot) Robert Burns
    (a portion of the poem)
    As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
    So deep in love am I:
    And I will love thee still my dear,
    Till all the seas gang dry:
    I like the term “doney gal” OK, but overall I think “bonnie lass” fits her beauty much better.
    Sorry, that’s just me, thinking of Irish, Scot Appalachian heritage…Of course, I suppose those Western cowboys did migrate out West…didn’t they?
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    February 4, 2017 at 10:15 am

    Tipper,
    Read about it long ago.
    Just pondering…
    What if a sailor that was “heartbroken” had a speech impediment and pronounced the name in his woeful tune, “My Doney Lies Over The Ocean” instead of “My Bonny Lies Over the Ocean” would he be able to… Bring, bring back, Oh bring back his Doney-gal to him, to him?
    I’m gone to basketball games! Our sweet Doney-gal is playing two games today as well as our little lad!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Bill Burnett
    February 4, 2017 at 10:15 am

    I have heard Doney Gal but like Bob Jones I always thought it’s origin was Scotland.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    February 4, 2017 at 9:45 am

    My mind went to the homophone (?) Donegal, as in Ireland, thinking the original reference was to a girl from there. Definitely a possibility, The thread on Mudcat (http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=54922) has a number of interesting comments including references to the Italian “donna” and the Spanish “dona” (with a tilde over the ‘n’) as origins for “doney”. The Mudcat thread also references “dun” (that dusty brown color” as a reference to a cowboy’s horse, lovingly called “doney” or “dunie”. Finally, Merriam-Webster says it refers to a hedge sparrow, such sweet and “dunie” little things.
    Language is fascinating!

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 4, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I meant doney-gal. Doney brook keeps running through my head,

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 4, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I meant doney-gal. Doney brook keeps running through my head,

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 4, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I meant doney-gal. Doney brook keeps running through my head,

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 4, 2017 at 9:27 am

    I meant doney-gal. Doney brook keeps running through my head,

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 4, 2017 at 9:24 am

    I’ve never heard it, but my wife says she has read it somewhere. I’ll call my wife of almost 50 years doney-brook.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 4, 2017 at 9:24 am

    I’ve never heard it, but my wife says she has read it somewhere. I’ll call my wife of almost 50 years doney-brook.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 4, 2017 at 9:24 am

    I’ve never heard it, but my wife says she has read it somewhere. I’ll call my wife of almost 50 years doney-brook.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    February 4, 2017 at 9:24 am

    I’ve never heard it, but my wife says she has read it somewhere. I’ll call my wife of almost 50 years doney-brook.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    February 4, 2017 at 8:20 am

    When I was little my great uncle called me his doney-gal and he was from Scotland . He was my Grandmother’s brother and his last name was Cornman. We called him Uncle Corny. He looked just like you would expect a Scotsman to look. White beard and all. I remember seeing bagpipes sitting in the parlor but do not think I ever heard them played by anyone in the family. I was only about 5 in 1944 when he died
    and I have no idea what he did for a living or when he came to the US.
    Thanks Tipper, for bringing this memory back.

  • Reply
    Bob and Inez Jones
    February 4, 2017 at 8:15 am

    Good Morning Tipper- Your blog is interesting to me. I was surprised to hear the original source of this saying. I am familiar with it but always thought it from Scotland. We have a lot of Scottish descendants in New Brunswick. I have often used the saying in regards to my girls or other small girls within my circle. I always considered it to refer to a ‘bonnie lass’ which I guess would not be so far off. Maybe I am getting it mixed up with another saying. Oh well, something for me to ponder. Have a great, wonderful day. (I think that both Chitter and Chatter, are ‘doney gals!)

  • Reply
    Jack
    February 4, 2017 at 8:14 am

    Haven’t heard doney girl used in conversation , but have run across it in reading. Note that Martha Burns mispronounces appalachian. There is a nice song by Martin Simpson called Doney Gal ,which can be heard on spotify.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    February 4, 2017 at 8:01 am

    Tip, I’ve heard, or more likely read the term Doney- gal but it’s so far back in my memory that I cannot retrieve it at the moment. There is bonny gal, meaning pretty girl and that, of course, fits both your girls!
    I love the picture, like a wisp in the wind. You certainly captured it!

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    February 4, 2017 at 7:57 am

    It does set the mind wondering about the wirds history

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