Name that dress code

Today’s Dilbert has Catbert giving advice on naming the company’s new dress code:


(in fact, a dorky name for it). Now on dork and dorky.

On this blog, look at “geek, dork, etc.” of 9/1/13, about a Shoebox cartoon, with links to earlier postings on the slang terms dweeb, nerd, geek, and dork, but focusing on the two items, nerd and geek, that have come to be used with neutral affect, even proudly (while dweeb and dork are contemptuous). From a character in the cartoon: “Nerds are more academically inclined, while we geeks are just super-passionate about our hobbies.”

Dork starts as vulgar slang for ‘penis’; the earliest cite in OED2 is for this sense, from a lexicographic discussion (so that this use is guaranteed to be earlier):

1964   Amer. Speech 39 118   The word dick itself serves as a model for two variants which are probably Midwestern, dirk and dork, also meaning ‘penis’.

Then comes the sense ‘a foolish or stupid person; also as a general term of contempt’, with a first cite from 1972 (Wikipedia has ‘a slang word for a stupid or inept person’). The sense development here is one that has occurred with several other slang terms for ‘penis’ — dick, prick, tool, putz; from ‘penis’ by metonymy to ‘person bearing a penis’, carrying over the vulgarity of the term.

This second sense of dork serves as the basis for suffixation with -y, to yield dorky, roughly ‘like a dork’, or as OED3 (Dec. 2005) has it:

slang (orig. U.S.). Contemptible or pathetic; spec. socially awkward, unfashionable.

with a 1970 cite from Current Slang (Univ. S. Dakota) 4 iv. 17: “Dorky, ridiculous, unfair”. Once again a lexicographic source, guaranteeing that the word is older than 1970.

The website “Lovely Little Lexemes: Exploring the strange and wonderful English language, one word at a time” by “Mrs. B” has a 3/3/12 entry on dorky, defining it as ‘stupid, inept, or unfashionable’; summarizing the OED‘s material on dork and dorky; and supplying this image from


One Response to “Name that dress code”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    Posted on ADS-L, 3/3/12 (would post a link but the archives are currently down thanks to a Linguist List server change)…

    Today’s OED Word of the Day is “dorky” (‘contemptible or pathetic; spec. socially awkward, unfashionable’), with cites from 1970. HDAS and GDoS have “dork” (‘a stupid or obnoxious person’) from 1967.

    Here’s “dorky” as a noun in the sense of “dork” from 1965:

    1965 _Los Angeles Times_ 30 Nov. C4/4 In Eau-Claire, Wis., an unpleasant fellow is a “dorky,” and “nuk nuk” is the response to a not-too-funny joke. [Sylvie Reice, “The Swinging Set,” syndicated column]

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