The Toad's Words

Excursus #18

When I started writing The Toad's Words I decided to not include slang. However, after studying the history of the English language, I now realize that many of our commonly used words started off as slang. There seem to be four general types of slang:

  1. That vocabulary used by low and disreputable people.
  2. That used by a profession or special calling,
  3. That vocabulary considered below the level of educated English, and
  4. New words or existing words used in a new manner. In Toad #16, the Australian usage of 'grouse' would be defined as slang and would fall under definition #4.

Slang is generally something that teachers and parents don't like when spoken by children, even though our speech is riddled with it.

This is all in prelude to Toad #18, which is going to look at a few pieces of slang. It started when my daughter, Ann, asked me if I knew what 'geek' really meant. I replied by asking her if she knew what 'dork' really meant. And we were off.

The Full Monty

Let me start with the British expression 'The Full Monty.' Now, like slang, the Toad generally does not analyze expressions and since this is a slang expression that is very British I should not be touching it. However, I thought that enquiring minds would want to know.

After seeing the movie where 'The Full Monty' refers to stripping down till nothing is left to the imagination, my wife, Pam, said that she had read a paper in England that related the term to Field Marshall Montgomery (who is usually referred to as Monty). However, she couldn't remember why. The first thing I did was search the web and found only one source for Monty. It referred to Del Monte canned food. The author of that same source made the statement that he could not understand why the British insisted on capitalizing Monty. Duh!

I then did the next logical thing. I e-mailed my British writer / journalist friend, Andrew Lycett, and asked the question. Andrew came back with a quote from the Guardian newspaper. I will paraphrase and enhance a bit.

In the Second World War, Field Marshal Montgomery liked eating a full breakfast, so when soldiers lined up in the morning some of them used to ask for 'the full Monty.' Another explanation relates to Montague Burton. Burton was a popular High Street tailor - one of the first places where a working man could buy himself a suit. When customers were asked whether they wanted a two or three-piece suit, those who wanted a waistcoat (vest in American English) said they wanted 'the full Monty.' This also explains why the saying is often used in relation to items other than breakfast.

Geek, noun

Someone who sends his friends detailed definitions of 'The Full Monty.'

Originally, in U.S. slang, a 'geek' was a freak in a carnival whose act was to bite the heads off live chickens. (Today we leave this to rock musicians.) Now it often refers to a strange or bizarre person, a creep, or a disgusting person. However, more commonly, a geek refers to an earnest, hard working student. 'Nerd' and 'geek' are often used interchangeably.

'Geek' comes from the word geck meaning fool or one who is fooled. In Samuel Johnson's Dictionary published in 1755, he defines the term 'to geck' as meaning to cheat, to trick. 'Geek' as a carnival trickster apparently came into use in the Nineteenth Century.

The physics library came to be known on as geek haven.

Dork, noun

Originally, 'dork' was a euphemism for penis. Now this definition seems to be forgotten and 'dork' usually refers to a jerk, a klutz, or a strange person. Note that nerds and geeks are not dorks. However, there are dorky nerds.

'Dork' may have its origins in the word dorbel, which is a Sixteenth Century word for a dunce. A better explanation is that it comes from 'dirk,' which is a long bladed dagger.

We tried to study with the other geeks until some dork came in and started humming the William Tell Overture over and over again.

Nerd, noun

A dull, bookish person who is usually socially inept. Often it refers to a person who is square or not hip.

It is not clear where this word originated, but it is fairly new. Actually it was born the same year I was, 1950, (what a scary thought) if we believe the dominant theory that it comes from the character in Dr. Seuss' If I Ran The Zoo. Remember the great line: "And then, just to show them, I'll sail to Ka-Too And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo a Nerckle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!" The theory is that older siblings picked up on the word and applied it to the 'squares' of their day.

The nerd dorked around with his slide rule so much that even the physics geeks wouldn't be seen with him.

Jock, noun

An athlete.

Originally jock referred only to men but now is used gender free. This is an interesting turn considering that it is derived from the male athlete's underwear known as the 'jockstrap' (or euphemistically an 'athletic supporter.') So why do we use the word jock to refer to that element of the anatomy that needs to be strapped or supported? Apparently it derives from the slang word 'jockum' which meant penis from the mid-Sixteenth to the early Nineteenth Century. It is interesting to note that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 'jock' also referred to the 'private parts' of females as well. Jockum probably comes from the name Jock, which is a form of John. John has been used since the Fourteenth Century to refer to male organs, males, and male-like things.

The jocks found that they needed at least one nerd or geek as a friend in order to get help on their homework.

Wimp, noun

A person who is weak, ineffectual, or retiring.

There are several theories on the origin of 'wimp.' The first one that comes to mind but is probably wrong, is that it comes from Popeye's friend Wimpy from the Thimble Theater. (Remember the word 'goon' in Toad #16?) Most sources seem to think that 'wimp' comes from 'whimper.' It is more likely that the definition of 'whimper' has helped the acceptance of 'wimp.' The most likely version is that 'wimp' (used in England as slang for 'girl') somehow made its way to the States during or after World War I.

The acronym for 'wimp' - 'Weak-kneed, Impudent, Moronic, Palooka,' was most likely invented after 'wimp' was strongly ingrained in our vernacular.

For the physics geeks out there, WIMP stands for 'Weakly Interacting Massive Particle.'

Phillip, who dressed like a text book nerd, proved that he was not the geeky wimp that everyone thought he was when he used his karate skills to level Jake the Jock after he caught him dorking around with his trumpet.

Disclaimer: The author, his peers, friends, and colleagues in no way take responsibility for crossed-eyed glances, slapped faces, rejected offers, or any draconian consequences as a result of using The Toad's Words.

Revised: August 27, 2000

Copyright by Michael L. VanBlaricum, 04 September 2000.

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