Word of the day: bloke

I assume that most of you are familiar with the word 'bloke' (informal British English for 'man'), but you might not know where it comes from. I didn't until yesterday.

I was doing some background research for a Daily Mail-style gypsy-bashing story – we're not the most PC of publications – when I read on Wikipedia that the word 'bloke' comes from the language Shelta.

What's Shelta? "An ancient secret language used by Irish and Welsh tinkers and gypsies, based on altered Irish or Gaelic words," according to the OED, which dates 'bloke' to the 19th century. You might know Shelta as Pavee, or The Cant. Parts of the Irish Traveller community (gypsies if you like) still speak it.

Some more digging shows that the term 'bloke' (or 'bloak', as it was sometimes spelled) was even once popular in America. This may or may not help the next time your American friends laugh at you for using funny words...

4 comments:

Editrix said...

You Brits get all the good slang: "bloke," "wanker," "bugger off." We get stuck with "dude," "douchebag," and "go f**k yourself."

It's so unfair.

I tried to get "tenner" (for "ten-dollar bill") to catch on over here. No dice. Most of the time, if I said (for example), "I got this shirt for a tenner," people would say, "For a what?" And then there I'd be, wearing my cheap shirt and feeling like a poseur.

JD said...

You should try introducing some other money slang, such as 'monkey' for 500 (pounds, or dollars I suppose) and pony for £25...

Apus said...

In pre-decimal days common slang for half a crown (= two shillings and sixpence = 12.5p) was "half a dollar". Presumably this dates back to the time when a crown (known as five bob) was worth a dollar, presumably because you got four US dollars for one UK pound.

And in some parts of the US isn't a cent known as a penny?

Editrix said...

Yup, a cent is a penny over here, but the only time I hear people talk about something costing ten pennies (or eight pennies or thirty pennies or whatever) is if they're trying to emphasize its low, low price. But even that's rare. When people say "penny," they're almost always referring to the coin itself (e.g., "I found so many pennies under my couch cushions"). When people talk about the monetary value, they almost always use "cent" (e.g., "For just seventy cents a day, you can change a child's life").

I'm taking a trip to England next month, and I hope to get away with using (a) "tenner," (b) "pony," and (c) "p" (as in, "This candy costs fifty p").