Done but not forgotten

U 6.612: One whiff of that and you’re a doner.

The change from goner to doner (‘dead’, ‘done for’) in the Critical and Synoptic Edition of Ulysses of 1984 was rejected out of hand by some Irish Joyceans who, amongst other things, insinuated that the edition betrayed a non-native insensitivity to proper Dublinese. As Vincent Deane was the first to point out, these objections do not bear close scrutiny, not least because we have doner in Joyce's own handwriting as well as at all document stages following the autograph right up to the last page proof in 1921, when someone in an unidentifiable hand changed doner to goner.1

A closer inspection of the language of Dublin at the time shows that at least one of Joyce’s fellow citizens (one - like Bloom, who uses the word - with a Jewish background) had the audacity to use this mot injuste at the time Joyce paid his last visit to his native town:

He's a doner and a goner, oul' Tim is; and a great pity it is entirely that there's no chance o' getting myself smuggled away without them being the wiser of it.

The author of The House of a Thousand Welcomes ("Cead mille failthe"), published in 1912, was the journalist Edward Raphael Lipsett (1869-1921), a Russian Jew who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Halitvak’ (‘the Lithuanian’), and lived at 22 Windsor Avenue, Dublin until emigrating to New York on the SS Mauretania from Queenstown in November 1907.

The word doner can be traced back to 1838 in exactly Bloom’s sense, and as the Old Bailey proceedings tell us, the person quoted here, one Charles Ragan, was an Irishman:

... when I told him he was dying, he said, "Oh, yes, Sir, I know I am a doner," signifying that he was a dead man ...

Proceedings of the Old Bailey: Sessions Paper (Central Criminal Court), 3rd Sess., January, p. 370

In 1929 the Southern Star (published in Cork) provides further contemporaneous evidence for the term:

One man in the crowd shouted, 'He will come out now,' and another said, 'By the Lord, if he does not come out he is a doner.'(12 October, p. 9)

The documentation shows that doner was used by people in Ireland for close on a century.

With dotty Denis Breen in mind (the enraged recipient of a postcard that bears the insidious message U.P.) we might note this punning quotation from Punch in 1893 (vol. 104, p. 207), although it is fairly obvious that ‘doner’ here is primarily a spelling variant of donna (common slang at the time for ‘woman’):

I'm done, my little doner! I'm jest about a goner! My savings all U.P.!

Harald Beck


1 Vincent Deane, "Looking after the Sense", in Ruth Frehner and Ursula Zeller (eds.), A Collideorscape of Joyce. Festschrift for Fritz Senn, Dublin 1998, p. 386.

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