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"to dob-in"

Posted by Pamela on January 09, 2007

In Reply to: "To dob-in" posted by emily swift-jones on January 08, 2007

: I've been searching without luck to find out where the phrase "to dob-in" comes from.
: Do you know?

"Dob-in" meaning "tell on someone" and the associated "dob-artist" are very common in Australia. The Australian National University has the following speculation on the origin:

"We can all dob in to buy a present for a work mate's birthday, but it is most un-Australian to dob in that same work mate if he takes a sickie and is sighted at the local racecourse. But where does the word come from? Do these two dob ins have the same origin? And do we have the same dob when an Aussie Rules footballer dobs the ball through the goalposts? The clue to the origin of these Australianisms may lie in British dialect. There we find the verb dob meaning 'to put down an article heavily or clumsily; to throw down', with examples from Nottinghamshire ('I dobbed my cap on to the butterfly') and Kent ('Dob down the money'). The problem with this theory is that most Australian words and meanings which have their origin in British dialect appear during the nineteenth century. The Australian dob in does not appear until the 1950s. A second dialectal meaning of dob is 'to throw stones etc. at a mark'. Thus from Cornwall we have 'He dobbed a great stone at me'. In this case, one interesting aspect of the sense is its connection with the game of marbles. In Cheshire the verb means 'to throw a piece of slate, or other flat missile, at marbles placed in a ring at a distance of about six or seven feet from the player', and in Northamptonshire 'When one boy strikes another boy's marble, without his marble first touching the ground, he is said to dob on it'. A dobber in British dialect is 'a large marble'. This word was retained in the United States, and in a 1934 text from the US we read: 'There was marbles, and there was a game of marbles called Dobbers, played with marbles the size of lemons. You played it in the gutter on the way home from school, throwing your Dobber at the other fellow's and he would throw his at yours'. Is it possible that the Australian notion of dobbing in, and being a dobber or dobber-in is a transfer from some aspect of the game of marbles? Were the terms dob, dob in, and dobber used in the game of marbles in Australia earlier this century? We have no evidence for this, but would welcome information from readers." Pamela

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