28. Terms of Insult II
Bill Long 5/10/05
Six more Delicious "D's"
In the previous essay, I began to survey ten terms of derogation from the "D's" in the Collegiate. I finish that survey here.
5. Dip-shit (1962). It seems as if these people have been around much longer than 43 years, but this is what the Collegiate has. The OED doesn't have it. A dip-shit is a "stupid or incompetent person." What I have been unable to discover is in what context this phrase emerged. Was it from teen-agers repeatedly going to Dairy Queen and seeing the server dip that vanilla soft-serve into the chocolate syrup? Or, was it from guys who loved to work on cars constantly checking the oil by removing the dip stick? In the former instance, some bright teen might have surmised to his friend: "You know what that looks like, XX?" It looks like 'dipped XXXX.' You don't think so? Well, you are a real 'dip-shit' to think that." Or, in the second instance, "Take out the dipstick and check the oil. You don't know what the dipstick is? You really are a 'dip-shit.'" Maybe you have another suggestion. I would be interested in hearing it.
6. Dippy (1899). This is the earliest one of the ten. Someone who is dippy is "mad, insane, crazy. Also, with "about" or "over," it means to be in love with. The OED first attests it in 1903, and this 1904 quotation illustrates its use, "It is just as easy to love a girl who has the coin as it is to get dippy over the Honest Working-Girl." That the word could be used for both sexes is indicated by a 1923 quotation: "I'd be just as happy in two rooms and a kitchenette, so long as Fillmore was there. You've no notion how dippy I am about him."
7. Dim-wit (1921). The Collegiate defines this as a "stupid or mentally slow person." The adjective, dim-witted, didn't make its appearance until 1934. The OED has a quotation for the former from 1922 and the latter from 1940. "She's the worst dim-wit on campus," or, from the New Yorker in 1925, "An archduke, a sort of royal dim wit.." Again, both men and women seemingly were equally dim of wits in the early days of the use of this term.
8. Dim-bulb (1927). I can see why the OED might not want to have dip-shit or even dirt-bag. But why wouldn't it have dim-bulb especially when the Collegiate has it? The Collegiate only defines it as "dim-wit," so it is not as though we are adding any new content to the meaning. But the fact that it only emerged six years after dim-wit gives one pause. I wonder if the concept of electric light bulbs was still so rare in the late 1910s and early 1920s, that the light didn't go on in people's minds regarding the association between a dim bulb and a stupid person until after dim-wit had been in the language a few years.
9. Ditzy (1973). It is hard to believe that this word is of such recent origin. It means "eccentrically silly, giddy, or insane," according to the Collegiate. The OED calls it ditsy and points to dicty, a word first appearing in 1926, as the progenitor of ditsy. But dicty means "conceited, high-class, snobbish." Though the OED says that the origin is unknown, it seems to have emerged in Black English, as reflected in this 1944 quotation: "These (sic) are only a few dozen words and phrases that are uniquely Negro...such as 'dicty' which means trying to put on airs and act upper class without having the basis for doing so."
Thus, I have a hard time seeing how ditzy/ditsy might have been derived from dicty. In any case, once ditzy appeared on the scene in the late 1970s, it meant either "fussy"/"intricate" or, more frequently, "(Esp. of a woman) stupid, scatterbrained; cute." Even though we were in the middle of the feminist revolution at that time, the word ditzy seemed to take on a meaning associating it exclusively with women. From a Time movie review in 1981: "Bob Newhart plays the President of the United States. Madeline Kahn is his ditso wife. Gilda Radner is their ditsy daughter." Perhaps receding images of Goldie Hawn also helped to give it an anit-feminist life of its own. Or, perhaps when men felt threatened by the gradual incursions of feminist thought into the workplace, they retaliated by coining the term ditzy.
10. Ditz (1982). Only in 1982?? Here the noun appeared later than the corresponding adjective (in contrast to dim-wit (1921) and dim-witted (1934)). From a Guardian quotation of 1985: Meryl Streep is serious, Suzanne Somers isn't. That's the way they're seen...I don't think Miss Somers does ditsy tap dances when she gets home. I've been both. I used to be a ditz. Now I'm talented." I increasingly hear women using ditz to describe other women. Where is the sisterhood when you need it?
Well, now that we have had that pleasant diversion, let's return to the dictionary and to the tasks before us.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long