Dick is an English language euphemism used for a variety of slang purposes, some generally considered vulgar. It is used to refer to the penis, and by extension as a verb to describe sexual activity. It is also used as a pejorative term for individuals who are considered to be rude, abrasive, inconsiderate, or otherwise contemptible. In this context, it can be used interchangeably with jerk, and can also be used as a verb to describe rude or deceitful actions. Variants include dickhead, which literally refers to the glans. The offensiveness of the word dick is complicated by the continued use of the word in inoffensive contexts, including as both a given name and a surname, in the popular British dessert, spotted dick, in the classic novel Moby-Dick, and in the Dick and Jane series of children's books. Uses such as these have provided a basis for comedy writers to exploit this juxtaposition through double entendre.
The word dick has had other slang meanings in the past. It was frequently used in mystery fiction to mean "detective", as with the 1940 W.C. Fields film The Bank Dick (which was released in the United Kingdom as The Bank Detective). The word has sometimes been used to mean "nothing". Neither of these definitions were necessarily pejorative or related to the usual modern meaning of the word.
Origin and evolution
The term dick originally derives from the given name, Richard, derived from German, French, and English "ric" (ruler, leader, king) and "hard" (strong, brave), and therefore meaning "powerful leader". This was shortened to Rick as a nickname, which then became "Dick" through the same rhyming slang that caused "Bob" to be used in place of "Rob" as an abbreviation for "Robert", and "Bill" to be used in place of "Will" as an abbreviation for "William". Because Richard was a popular name, the informal "Dick" came to be used as a term meaning an everyman, as seen in the phrase "Tom, Dick, and Harry", and was therefore closely associated with characteristics of masculinity.
The word connoted a person of questionable character long before it became a nickname for the penis. For example, in the 1665 satire The English Rogue by Richard Head, an unsavory character is referred to as a "dick":
The next Dick I pickt up for her was a man of a colour as contrary to the former, as light is to darkness, being swarthy; whose hair was as black as a sloe; middle statur'd, well set, both strong and active, a man so universally tryed, and so fruitfully successful, that there was hardly any female within ten miles gotten with child in hugger-mugger, but he was more than suspected to be Father of all the legitimate.
An 1869 slang dictionary offered definitions of "dick" including "a riding whip" and an abbreviation of dictionary, also noting that in the North Country, it was used as a verb to indicate that a policeman was eyeing the subject. The term came to be associated with the penis through usage by men in the military around the 1880s.
Actor and internet personality Wil Wheaton has written on the subject of Wheaton's Law, which states "don't be a dick". The phrase was in use before Wheaton's blog post, in the 1988 movie Heathers for example.
"Dick", when used in many of its slang connotations, is generally considered at least mildly offensive.
In 1994, the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts upheld a school policy under which a student was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt with a double entendre, reading "See Dick Drink. See Dick Drive. See Dick Die. Don’t be a Dick." The court in this case held that a legitimate goal of the school - to calm a sexually charged environment and enhance the ability of students to learn - made it unlikely that this restriction was a violation of any First Amendment rights. This decision was vacated the following year by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which noted that students have the right to express their views, and that the T-shirt, "though reasonably thought vulgar", did express a view.
In 2001, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published guidelines that summarized instances in which a number of media outlets had violated indecency laws when using the word "dick" in a sexual context. These included, for example, the State University of New York's WSUC-FM, in Cortland, New York, which in 1993 was fined for broadcasting a rap titled "I'm Not Your Puppet", which referenced "shoving my dick up this bitch's behind" in one lyric, and stated in another, "I pulled out my dick, popped it in her mouth, and she sucked it". In the same report, however, the FCC noted that in 1990, it had ruled that WFBQ (FM)/WNDE (AM) in Indianapolis had not engaged in indecency when it broadcast the line "So you talk to Dick Nixon, man you get him on the phone and Dick suggests maybe getting like a mega-Dick to help out, but you know, you remember the time the King ate mega-Dick under the table at a 095 picnic", and a parody commercial referencing a fictional monster truck called "Big Peter! Formerly the Big Dick's Dog Wiener Mobile". In January 2005, the FCC released a ruling that it would not fine broadcasters whose programs used "dick" on the air to refer to a person behaving contemptibly. Specifically, the FCC stated in its ruling:
A number of complaints cite isolated uses of the word "dick" or variations thereof. In context and as used in the complained of broadcasts, these were epithets intended to denigrate or criticize their subjects. Their use in this context was not sufficiently explicit or graphic and/or sustained to be patently offensive.
The name of the traditional British dessert spotted dick has occasionally been perceived as potentially embarrassing, prompting hospital managers at Gloucestershire NHS Trust (in 2001) and the catering staff at Flintshire County Council (in 2009) to rename the pudding Spotted Richard on menus, as many customers made "immature comments" about the pudding. Gloucestershire NHS Trust restored the original name in 2002 and Flintshire County Council reversed their renaming after a few weeks.
- Eric Partridge, Paul Beale, A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1984), p. 305.
- Richard Head, Francis Kirkman, The English Rogue: Described in the Life of Meriton Latroon and Other Extravagants (1674 ed.), p. 64-65.
- John Camden Hotten, The Slang Dictionary: Or, the Vulgar Words, Street Phrases, and "Fast" Expressions of High and Low Society (1869), p. 120.
- Wakelin, Nicole (2012-02-22), On Explaining Wheaton's Law
- PAX FTW, 2007-08-27,
I think I may just go ahead and make it my new motto:
Wil Says, "Don't be a dick!"
...or something. I'm working on it.
- CmdrTaco (1999-09-09), Slashdot Moderation, Slashdot, archived from the original on 1999-10-12,
As the bumper sticker says... "Don't be a dick."
- Dalzell, Tom (July 25, 2008). The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge. ISBN 9781134194780.
a despicable person, US, 1966; Don't be a dick. That stuff'll kill her. — Heathers, 1988
- Barkham, Patrick (26 February 2001). "Aussie icons under siege". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Aqua Teen Hunger Force: Dickesode". TV.COM. Retrieved 2009-01-05.
- Pyle v. South Hadley School Committee, 861 F. Supp. 157, 159 (D. Mass. 1994).
- Tom Condon, Patricia M. Wolff, School Rights: A Parent's Legal Handbook and Action Guide (1996), p. 150.
- Pyle v. South Hadley School Committee, 55 F.3d 20, 21 (1st Cir. 1995).
- Federal Communications Commission, In the Matter of Industry Guidance On the Commission’s Case Law Interpreting 18 U.S.C. § 1464 and Enforcement Policies Regarding Broadcast Indecency, File No. EB-00-IH-0089 (April 6, 2001).
- Frank Ahrens, "FCC Dismisses 36 Indecency Complaints as Not 'Patently Offensive'", Washington Post (January 25, 2005), Page E01.
- Federal Communications Commission, In the Matter of Complaints by Parents Television Council, et al., Against Various Broadcast Licensees Regarding Their Airing Of Allegedly Indecent Material, File No. EB-03-IH-0357 (January 24, 2005), ¶ 8.
- Spotted Dick back on menu 10 Sept 2002 BBC.
- Pudding renamed Spotted Richard BBC News 8 September 2009.
- Spotted Dick back on council menu BBC News 23 September 2009.
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