Monday, 20 October 2014

Dick - Well Spotted

This was not a pleasant picture to find
(photo by Chuck Coker)

DICK

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.

13 comments:

  1. Hahahaha! Thanks for that! And please keep covering the bawdier words of the English language. ;)

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  2. Other non-rude 'dickies' include a term for a 'donkey' as well as a colloquial term for a 'louse' apparently, although I've never heard of that before? Cockney rhyming slang 'Dicky dirt' for a shirt, a shirt with a collar and by extension a 'dicky-bow' ie. an informal term for a bow-tie. "To take one's dick" is an obsolete term where the 'dick' in question is a shortened form of 'declaration' in other words, 'to go on oath'. "Not a dicky bird’’ is commonly heard in English without a snigger, 'dicky bird' being rhyming slang for 'word' and finally and also sticking with 'dicky birds' as in 'watch the dicky bird' there's a sparrow-like North American songbird called a dick-cissel.

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    1. I always learn something from your comments, Mwncïod - I had no idea that 'dicky bird' was rhyming slang.

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  3. Didn't quite get to the bottom of this though - 'The last British built car with a dickey seat was the Triumph 2000 Roadster made until 1949'.

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    1. Quite right you are:

      Dicky seat:
      (a) A seat at the front of a horse-drawn carriage for the driver; a seat at the rear for servants or a guard (E19),
      (b) An outside folding seat at the back of a motor vehicle (E20).

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    2. Yes, but why is it called a 'dickey' seat?

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    3. I can't find the reference now, but I believe it comes from the use of 'dick' or 'dicky' to mean 'chap, man, lad'. Thus, perhaps the dicky seat was simply the seat for the man on the staff, rather than the gentleman or lady being transported.

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    4. Although I haven't seen any definitive evidence to suggest this is true. I always thought it was called a 'dickey seat' from the adjectival meaning of 'dickey' being 'unsecure', shaky', rickety etc.

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  4. Around my parts people "dick around". Not around *my* parts as such. I mean people "dick around" my region. Not around *my* region. I mean...look...some people say "dicking around" to mean "messing about". That's what I mean. I'm glad that's clear.

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    1. Quite clear, thank you very much, F.D. I rather think the expression 'dicking around' qualifies for entry in the category of 'coarse slang', however.

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  5. You're right about Spotted Dick, Eddie. The caterers at Flintshire Council headquarters in Mold actually went so far as to change its name to Spotted Richard or Sultana Sponge after being embarrassed by sniggers and comments.
    The council spokesman said:
    "This was not a policy decision, canteen staff simply acted as they thought best to put an end to unwelcome and childish comments, albeit from a very small number of customers."

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    1. That is hilarious, Sally! Spotted Richard indeed!

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