The Brothers Grimm are renowned for their collection of tales, 211 in all. Although we call them “fairy tales,” they aren’t about fairies. The Grimms themselves labeled them Hausmärchen (house, or nursery, tales).
Tale number 97, The Twin Brothers, tells of twins who set out to seek their fortunes. One brother rescues a princess about to be devoured by a dragon — ein Drache.
We’re told, “With a rushing noise and a roar, the seven-headed dragon made his appearance ... He breathed fire as he spoke from his seven throats.”
Naturally, the young hunter slays the dragon and marries the beautiful princess.
The Grimm tales are folklore, word-of-mouth accounts collected from all over Northern Europe. But dragon stories go back centuries and are found in most civilizations.
In Greek myth, Cadmus, son of the King of Tyre, founded the city-state of Thebes, and also brought reading and writing to the Greeks. It is said he introduced the Phoenician alphabet later adopted by the Romans and dispersed throughout the known world.
Once, the Oracle, Delphi, bade Cadmus find a certain white cow and then build his city on the very spot where the cow stood. Having located this cow, Cadmus vowed to sacrifice it to the goddess Athena.
Because he needed absolutely pure water for this rite, he dispatched his followers to find some. Eventually, they discovered a spring of crystal-clear water but as they filled their containers, the spring’s guardian, a fierce dragon, emerged from his cave and killed them all.
Cadmus tracked down the dragon who, in fact, was the son of Ares, god of war. Cadmus slew the dragon, took some water, and sacrificed the cow. When that was done, Athena materialized telling him to sow half the dragon’s teeth in the ground. He obeyed, and a host of armed warriors sprang from the buried teeth and became his army.
Evidently, our word dragoon is descended from this myth, although dragoon in English initially referred to a type of short firearm, a carbine, first used by mounted soldiers in 1605. Dragoon wasn’t applied to soldiers themselves until 1622. Oxford tells us the gun got its name because it “appeared to breathe fire.” By 1712, dragoon meant, “any tough or fierce man.”
As a verb, dragoon appeared in 1689 when it referred to forcing someone into some action via threats and harassment.
The slang word goon (thug) was first found in print in a 1919 comic strip, Thimble Theater, drawn by E.C. Segar. Popeye the Sailorman was a character in this comic, and Alice the Goon inhabited Popeye when Thimble Theater was renamed.
Most sources credit the genesis
of the word goon to Segar. But I’d suggest that Segar probably shortened dragoon, which, as mentioned above, had come to mean, “tough guy.”
Some 20 other English words incorporate the word, dragon — dragonfly and snapdragon, for example. A miner’s term dragon’s skin refers to fossilized plants found in coal seams. The Dragons on the TV show, Dragon’s Den, are entrepreneurs willing to risk capital on new, bright ideas.