Variations on the name Richard

“Around the 16th century Dick started to be synonymous with ‘man’, ‘lad’, or ‘fellow’, sort of a general name for any ‘Tom, Dick, or Francis”.

richard nixonRegarding my post of March 8, the Windy City Kiwi, Arthur@AmeriNZ, wrote:

HUGE props to you for doing a post relevant to International Women’s Day without making it about it. I tend to think the most powerful feminism from men is when it’s not about being feminist. Maybe that’s just me.

But I want to challenge you a bit. You wrote that you object to “the C-word” in part because of the “the reduction of a woman to a body part”. But, do you similarly object to a man being called a “dumb prick” or, more simply, a “dick”? That’s reducing a man to a body part, after all, but no one—ever—says “the D-word” or similar. Is it really any less objectionable and, if not, why not?

An “Ask Roger” question without being prompted!

Obviously I agree with the gist of your post, and I challenge myself far more than I challenge others. But I do wonder sometimes if we have cultural blinders on, and so, don’t see oppressive language in all its manifestations.

I suppose I didn’t think about this side of the equation very much, maybe because this is still a male-centric culture. It’s usually men that I hear using these terms, surely far more often than I hear women sharing them.

Perhaps others use the term because of the cliche – which may be true – that men sometimes (often?) seem to think to think with their “little heads”, that men are, as a whole, a less evolved species.

I will say that these aren’t words that I would use, personally. Indeed, there are a whole slew of terms for male body parts that I tend not to choose to describe the whole man. But is that a function of sensitivity or just me being a prude? The only time I use the word prick is when I get blood drawn and they prick my finger, which, BTW, hurts more than one would think.

The only people named Richard that I regularly referred to as Dick were Nixon and Cheney.

My father-in-law is named Richard. My mother-in-law calls him Dick, as do most of his friends in his age range, but I call him Richard. This is, undoubtedly a reaction, when I was a kid, to some poor boy named Richard being verbally tortured for his nickname.

And there are so many other choices for Richard: Rich, Richie, Rick. I wondered how How Dick Came to be Short for Richard:

Due to people having to write everything by hand, shortened versions of Richard were common, such as ‘Ric’ or ‘Rich’. This in turn gave rise to nicknames like ‘Richie’, ‘Rick’, and ‘Ricket’, among others. People also used to like to use rhyming names; thus, someone who was nicknamed Rich might further be nicknamed Hitch. Thus, Richard -> Ric -> Rick gave rise to nicknames like Dick and Hick around the early 13th century.

This s also how William became Bill, Robert became Bob, et al.

While few today call Richards ‘Hick’, the nickname ‘Dick’ has stuck around, and of course has come to mean many other things as well. Its persistence as associated with Richard is probably in part because around the 16th century Dick started to be synonymous with ‘man’, ‘lad’, or ‘fellow’, sort of a general name for any ‘Tom, Dick, or Francis” (which by the way appears in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, written in the late 16th century, with Dick at this point firmly established as an “every man” name). It may well be that this association with ‘man’ is in turn how ‘dick’ eventually came to mean ‘penis’.

But the more vulgar reference is much later, from the last quarter of the 19th century.

The etymological roots of the word Dick, as a replacement for an everyday guy, which somehow segued into something more vulgar, makes me no less eager to use the term, but it was something I learned that I did not know.

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