|This was not a pleasant picture to find|
(photo by Chuck Coker)
Noun. In sense 2, uncapitalised. Mid-16th century.
[Male forename, playful alteration of Richard from Anglo-Norman Ricard, Latin Ricardus, whence Richard (of which it is used as a familiar abbreviation).]
1 A man, a fellow; a lad. Frequently with qualifying adjective. M16
2 The penis. coarse slang. L18
Yes, yes ... you're thinking: "Oh Lexicolatry! Again covering the bawdier words of the English language!" For one moment, however, roll your eyes back into the forward position and consider with me why dick is an interesting word, and whether it's actually rude at all. Well, in the right (or wrong) context, yes, of course it's rude; the OED specifically labels it as 'coarse slang'. Its rudeness is curious, though, in that it's not absolute; unlike many other swearwords, there are occasions when we suddenly shift backward 400 years, to a time when it wasn't rude at all, and you could bandy dick about willy-nilly without a care in the world.
Take the phrase Tom, Dick & Harry, for example, meaning 'anyone'; I could use that phrase in the most polite of company without so much as making a nun blush. Detectives have been called dicks, and an old person might complain of having a dicky heart. And if I described someone down the pub as a clever dick, it would elicit little more than a wry smile - just imagine if I threw that out on a Saturday night without the qualifying word clever. And as for that most delicious of English desserts, does anyone even think of anything untoward when served a delicious bowl of steaming spotted dick? Well, actually, yes, they do; even the straightest of laces can't help but smirk when that one's plopped on the table.
Do you know of any other non-rude dicky terms?
Can you use them without smirking?
Do please leave any comments in the box below.