dick around / dicker around

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dick around / dicker around

Post by Ken Greenwald » Mon May 02, 2005 8:32 pm

I had never heard the expression DICKER AROUND as in ‘stop dickering around.’ But after I did some checking I found that it appeared to be a variation on an expression that I am familiar with DICK AROUND as in STOP DICKING AROUND. <“That’s federal merchandise you’re dicking with, right marshal?”> <“He’s still in the kitchen dicking around with the sushi.”>. However, this ‘dick/dicker’ did not seem to have any etymological connection to the haggling/bartering one. But after doing some dickering around myself, I stumbled upon an 1888 example of ‘dickering around,’ which threw a monkey wrench into my assumptions. That quote meant that ‘dickering’ as in ‘dickering around’ predated the more recent ‘dicking around’ by at least 70 years. This was extremely puzzling to me and so I went back to the OED to check, and found under ‘dicker’:
<Also in extended use (intransitive.): to dither, vacillate, hesitate.”>
However, in their extensive list of quotes I found no examples of its use in this sense and thus my search and uncovering of my example in a 19th-century magazine (see 1888 quote below). In any case, it does appear that the ‘dithering’ sense of ‘dicker’ predates what I thought was the source of the expression. But the origin of this sense of ‘dicker’ and its connection, if any, to the bartering/haggling sense is not clear. The only thing that I can think of is that in trivial haggling one was felt to be wasting time, to be indecisive, to be vacillating, etc. and hence perhaps ‘dithering.’

DICK AROUND first appeared in the 1960s with the meaning of ‘to loaf or waste time,’ dither, mess/screw/play/fool/fuck around, from the notion or with overtones of acting like a ‘dick’ (penis). “The original meaning and a second present meaning (thus the penis connection) of ‘dick around’ from the 1940s was/is to be sexually promiscuous, unfaithful, a womanizer. Another (1980s) meaning that the expression has taken on is ‘to impose upon contemptuously, victimize’ (see 1983 quote below) as in “Stop dicking me around and give me the goods.”

So it looks to me as though what might have happened with this expression involved a combination of two factors. The older expression ‘dicker around’ did already exist and predated ‘dick around,’ but was not in wide usage. After ‘dick around’ appeared and became popular (although with a different original visual image but ultimately with the same meaning), in the 1960s, some folks by mistake/confusion, whatever, extended the ‘dick’ to ‘dicker’ producing the independent variation ‘dicker around.’ And the new fused with the old providing us with the present unified DICKER / DICKER AROUND.

DICKER AROUND is rare in slang dictionaries (I only found in Cassell’s) whereas DICK AROUND appeared in most. However, when Googled, ‘dicker around’ and ‘dickering around’ did produce a total of about 2000 hits while ‘dick around’ and ‘dicking around’ produced a total of about 35,600. So the ‘dicker’ variation, at least on the web, is used about 5% of the time.

<1947 “The only reason you been DICKING AROUND is there ain’t anything big enough for you to get your teeth in.” [[reference to WWII]]—‘The Naked and the Dead’ by Mailer, page 276>

<1966 “Don’t DICK AROUND with me, huh?”—‘Big Man’ by Neugeboren, page 134>

<1975 “She was getting sick and tired of DICKING AROUND with the little creep.”—‘Choirboys’ by Wambaugh, page 281>

<1983 “You been DICKIN’ me around ever since we started this turd-hunt.”—’48 Hours’ (film) by Spottiswood> [[‘victimizing’ sense]]

<1984 “‘Don’t DICK AROUND,’ Jeff threatened, ‘Get us there!’”—‘Blood Song’ by Searls, page 249>
<1888 “He’d been fixing up the house for some time, but as he was always DICKERING AROUND, that hadn’t struck us anything particular.”—“At Don Ignacio’s” by Henry Brooks, in Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, Vol. 12, Issue 72, December, page 594>

<1942 “ Why do bankers and industrialists bother DICKERING AROUND with their infinitesimal 8% and 10% interest, etc. if all they have to do is buy corn for 85¢ and watch it multiply itself three times?”—‘Time Magazine,’ 5 October>

<2003 “The Democrats are DICKERING AROUND with these nominees because they want them to all answer ‘how would you have answered Roe v. Wade?’”—‘Monterey County Weekly,’ 17 April>

<2005 “But then let's be candid about what we are doing, and not DICKER AROUND with obfuscation or silly debates about ‘public’ or ‘private’ financing.”—‘Washington Post,’ 16 March>
(Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Chapman’s Dictionary of Slang, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Oxford English Dictionary)

Ken G – May 2, 2005

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