Another Word like Gay, Whose Meaning Has Changed

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by American Horse, Mar 27, 2009.

  1. American Horse

    American Horse AKA "Mustang"

    Jan 23, 2009
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    The Hoosier Heartland
    A week ago I posted THIS THREAD on the origination of a very common phrase which gets more usage than most of us would like to hear. I Said:

    I do not claim any “scholarship”, or should I say deep research into my theories, so don't take me too seriously. I consider myself more an observer of interesting patterns in common speech than any kind of a scholar, and do it for my own amusement, and to occasionally 'salt' an adult conversation.

    This one, like my last, won’t be found in Webb Garrison’s book Why You Say It (“behind every word there is a story”), or J.T. Shipley’s Dictionary of Word Origins.
    My research on the following two words, and others like them I’ve looked into, suggests that my own theories are if nothing else, at least novel. More than than anything else though, they are probably just rarely thought about.

    Earlier "in the day", when what we now speak euphemistically of as “sexual preferences” was pretty much a private affair, there was probably a need for a “secret language” for those in the know, beyond toe tapping in the toilet, a set of terms which could be used between likely “candidates” or potential partners.

    For a period of time there was a word that was coined to describe a person in one of those relationships. In this jargon the male became politely referred to as a “derrick”. Derricks readily suggest in the mind’s eye, a stiff tower raised vertically above the landscape; thus the word creates an image, matching a human male body part. As a mere youth I discovered this obscure meaning in a book I found left behind by someone at a park outside our town. The book’s title was “Derricks”, and thinking that it was about construction derricks which our limestone industry uses to lift blocks of stone from quarries, I was curious and read parts of it. But when I read it, what I found was that it was not about quarries, but instead that it was a book about “relationships” of the “queer” type.

    So, keeping in mind that imagery of landscape and construction, it’ a just a step to arrive at the word “dike”, and more recently “dyke” for the female euphemism to correspond with “derrick”. (derricks and dikes) A dike is a feature constructed on the landscape, which when it has an opening can leak. Most of us have heard the Dutch folk-story about the boy who put his finger in the dike to save his city from a flood. So the etymological source for these two words could be ephemerally connected in their origins. I say ephemerally because as a couplet they were short lived. Subsequently the word derrick did not catch on and wasn't accepted into the vernacular of the culture, and the second word, dike (dyke) did gain popular usage in the culture.
    Not that there's anything wrong with that.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2009

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