My wife and I have been enjoying a DVD of the delightful British detective series Midsomer Murders (thanks, Eric!), and the episode we watched last night, “Blood Will Out,” taught me a new word, didicoi. It’s apparently a purely U.K. term, because none of my U.S. dictionaries have it, not even the imposing Webster’s Third New International, but the Concise Oxford English Dictionary has it: “didicoi … a Gypsy or other nomadic person. Origin C19: perh. an alt. of Romany dik akei ‘look here’.” The etymology doesn’t look very convincing on the face of it, but after all they do say “perhaps,” and it’s often hard to figure out where such dialect terms come from. At any rate, I was wondering if my non-Yank readers are familiar with it, and if so whether it has a derogatory connotation or is a reasonably neutral term. It’s certainly an enjoyable word to say.


  1. By odd coincidence, I grew up in the town that is used as the location for Causton in Midsomer Murders. “Didicoi” (variously spelled, as I recall) was a familiar term. It’s hard to say whether it was derogatory. Gypsies were not held in high regard, shall we say, so any name for them had negative connotations, but not necessarily on account of the word itself. From what I understand, it’s bad form to talk about Gypsies these days; they are Romanies, or travelers. I may well have this wrong…

  2. The last quotation in the OED2 agrees with my vague memory, that it’s a Romany term for non-Romany travelers:
    1966 Guardian 3 Nov. 4/6 ‘Didicoys’—the Irish tinkers and other nomads around London who far outnumber the true Romanies.
    Various pages around the net suggest that it may (also?) mean a person of mixed Romany and non-Romany ancestry. The most authoritative-looking of these is an article by Ian Hancock (in JSTOR), who is a “linguist, Romani scholar, and political advocate”. (WP)
    David has it right: any term for a despised minority is probably an insulting term by nature, unless it was just invented last week.

  3. I know the word didicoi as it was just a normal term for gypsies where I’m from in England (Norfolk, East Anglia) I say was because I haven’t heard it for a long time and of course you were more likely to hear “pikey” especially as a derogatory term.
    I live in an area now where people have never heard of the word “didicoi” so I assumed it was a Norfolk/East Anglian dialect term but it seems to be a word from the countryside rather than the cities.

  4. I’ve heard the term ‘diddikai’ used to refer to someone of part-Roma (generally half) origin.

  5. John, that’s interesting: the Romanies use didicoi as a (presumably) contemptuous term for travelers who are not of their kind, and then we (the resident white folks) use it to refer to any nomads, Romany or not. I guess, alas, we all need someone to look down on.

  6. Eel also mentioned it in the Gyp post.

  7. @MMcM
    Oh, I completely forgot about posting that comment and it just shows that due to never seeing the word written down I’ve never been consistent in spelling “didicoi” (which looks a bit mock-Greek to be honest) I’d probably settle for “diddicoy”.

  8. DIK AKEI might be a more credible etymon for DIDICOI if we assume the final /k/ of DIK was unreleased (any specialists on Romani phonetics out there?). For outsiders to mistake this hard-to-perceive consonant for a second /d/ seems quite plausible to me. And exonyms are very often derived from frequent utterances in the group’s language: French “chtimi” to designate Picard speakers (from Picard “this…(to) me”) is an example that comes to mind.
    The above assumes, of course, that the term originally designated romany-speakers and only later came to designate other travellers and/or people of mixed descent.

  9. I love how two of the suggested etymologies strongly hint at Roma’s Indic origin. “dik” for “look” is not much of a stretch from modern Hindi’s “dekh” the idea that diddikai meant “half Roma” made me think of “dedh”, “one and a half”. That latter’s a stretch, I know, but I like seeing words that remind me how far those travellers really have travelled.

  10. I’ve never heard didicoi in Ireland, where there were very few Romani till the EU’s eastern expansion.

  11. “The Diddakoi”, classic children’s book by Rumer Godden: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Diddakoi

  12. It’s probably been covered somewhere, but does all this “dik” & “dekh” explain why the English say “have a decco” for “have a look”, which I’ve always found completely opaque…?

  13. Yes, Catanea, “dekho” is a straight loan from the Hindi imperative (2nd person familiar) for look. Sorry, but I can never remember how to spell it the English way.

  14. Electric Dragon says

    It’s usually spelt “dekko” – it came to English via British soldiers posted in India during the Raj. It’s very old-fashioned now, and has overtones of “Boy’s Own” pulp adventure stories.

  15. My father used to use the word thirty or forty years ago (around Peterborough, so sort of East Anglia again).
    From him it was definitely meant to be disparaging, worse than “gypsy”: in fact I think what he meant by it was “not a proper gypsy” and hence someone who did not have the excuse of tradition and romance for their unsettled ways.
    I would have spelled it ‘diddicoy’, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it written before.

  16. Grew up in the Fens (also East Anglia). To me it’s quite old-fashioned but definitely derogatory; doubt you’ll find many slang terms for ‘gypsy’ in that region without negative connotations though!

  17. Diddicoi is also used in Hampshire, so is probably a quite widespread country word. As I understand it, it usually refers to travellers who are not Romani, and often to people regarded as travellers, but who are long settled. In one instance I know, a long-established family of car dealers are known as diddicoi, in this case not pejoratively, though that is often the case. Pikey is most definitely prejorative.

  18. The Dancing Did were a 1980s cult band from Evesham Worcestershire – their name (and one of their songs) meant The Dancing Didicoi, and the usage was very definitely not pejorative; though none of the band were gypsies, so far as I know. But as other posts have shown it was used pejoratively in many places and contexts.
    David L’s comment is sensible – “Pakistani” and “Jew” are pejorative words in the mouth of a Nazi. The tactical move by which originally insulting terms become adopted as badges (impressionist, queer) is familiar, of course.
    The word Gypsy is widely used by young Gypsies and the BBC webmasters use it, along with “Romany” “Roms'” “Romany Gypsies”, here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/kent/romany_roots/
    (Ironically, the Romany Roots messageboard, which was far the most interesting thing about the site, has been discontinued: “Following extensive user feedback, the editorial focus of the BBC Kent website has changing to enhance our coverage of local news-related issues and features.” Alas, the seemingly perennial mismatch between the “local” (i.e. settled) and the traveller continues… )

  19. (After posting, as usual) I went back to my 80-year-old source for the Hampshire usage, and must make corrections. In his youth, diddicoi (or didi-kI as he says it) was used for non-Gipsy travellers, but no longer differeniates. His car dealer friends firmly identify themselves as Gipsy though they “live in million pound houses” and have not travelled in several generations. Adn they are called diddicoi locally, but not to their faces, he says.
    In the interests of research, he is going to ask them next time he sees them what they think of the word ….

  20. What a fascinating discussion! (And I had forgotten all about Eel’s prior mention of the word.)
    As for the spelling, I agree with those who find it unintuitive; as a matter of fact, I originally used “didicoy” for the title of this post, and used the -y spelling several times in the post despite the fact that my sole reference used “didicoi”—I had to reread the text with an eagle eye to make sure it was consistent before I posted it.
    In the interests of research, he is going to ask them next time he sees them what they think of the word ….
    Excellent; do let us know the response!

  21. I am studying the course of Intro to English Linguistics so this post is really interesting and helpful for me to enrich my vocab and expend my knowledge in language. I’ll remember this word “didicoi” as an example of pure British!

  22. @Peter
    I also grew up in the Fens on the Norfolk side living by the borders where the Fens spill over South Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Nearest cities (in reality glorified market towns) to me our Peterborough and Ely, nearest town is over the border in Cambridgeshire, Wisbech “Capital of The Fens” as well as some other ‘local’ epithets, I’m more of a Lynn man, y’see (King’s Lynn) – by the way, that’s Wisbech pronounced “wis-beach” not “wiz-bek”!

  23. My father lived in Kent up to about 1948. Even now, after more than 60 years in Australia, he still occasionally uses the term to refer to Gypsies. He never uses the words Rom or Romany. I don’t know how he would spell it. I have only heard him say it.

  24. “unless it was just invented last week”
    Love it!

  25. Yaron Matras’ Romani in Britain: The Afterlife of a Language (Edinburgh University Press 2001) has the following to say:
    – Gypsy who is a different type to the speaker n. diddikai ER (= European Romani) akaj; dikh- ‘here’; ‘see’
    – half blood Gypsy n. diddikai ER akaj; dikh- ‘here’; ‘see’
    – rough Traveller n. diddikai ER akaj; dikh- ‘here’; ‘see’
    If it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me, though I had the same reaction as Etienne. The only reference work I have on hand is Matras’ Romani: A Linguistic Introduction (CUP 2004), where he insists that “Apart from the various effects of palatalisation and palatal mutation, stops are generally stable in Romani” (p. 50).

  26. I used to enjoy MM, but I grew tired of the murders always continuing until noöne but the murderer was left standing.
    I gather the cast has been completely replaced by now, and the producer got in to hot water for deliberately leaving out various ethnicities from the cast. I have no idea if adding Roma is good or bad in that regard.

  27. My experience has been that no place name in Norfolk is pronounced the way it’s spelled, so unless I’m already aware of the pronunciation I find it’s best to avoid it. When I was a child I used to think there were two places: Haysborough, down the road, and Happisburgh, the place on the road signs.

  28. AJP: But the sandbanks offshore are spelled Haisborough Sands (or Haisboro Sands or Haisbro Sands), according to Wiki. Presumably the mermaids couldn’t be bothered with the Happisburgh spelling…
    LH: There would be a puzzle for you. Why the disconnect on land and not at sea? Because it was important for mariners not to be confused about the sands, which are so dangerous they rate two lightvessels and a lighthouse on shore ?

  29. Sili –
    Yes, in March 2011 the producer Brian True-May made some remarks in an interview (http://www.beehivecity.com/newspapers/exclusive-excerpt-from-midsomer-murders-racial-remark-row-interview-674325/) with the Radio Times about the show’s market appeal abroad as a vision of the steretypic English village. He had a reasonable point to make, initially , but soon lost his way and gave vent to ludicrously exaggerated remarks like “If you went into Slough [now] you wouldn’t see a white face amongst it” , devastating in such uncomfortable proximity to speaking of MM as a “last bastion of Englishness, and I want to keep it that way”. The ensuing storm forced him to step down. This traincrash interview provided xenophobic newspapers with an opportunity to report, and what’s worse, to drum up support for, a coarsened version (Midsomer Race Row: 99% of viewers insist the TV show should stay white – Daily Express); typical Daily Telegraph comments stream here: http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/cristinaodone/100079840/midsomer-murders-the-multiculturalist-media-cannot-force-black-people-to-live-in-villages-so-they-pretend-that-they-do-instead/ .
    Also, of course, an opportunity for more internationalist newspapers to make cutting remarks about the shallow cosiness of Middle England’s preferred viewing. It isn’t widely known that David Lawrence, one of the series’ authors, is David Harsent, one of the UK’s most admired poets, known for his corrosively powerful poems about, guess what, national mythology.

  30. “Norridge” and Norwich are the other two that I only learned later were the same place. Whereas Northwich in Cheshire is pronounced as it’s spelt, proving that I’m more likely to be confused in Norfolk.

  31. @AJP:
    Norfolk’s full of odd places like that:
    Costessey – “Cossey”
    Dereham – “Deerum”
    Happisburgh – “Hazebrah”
    Narborough – “Narbrah”
    Ingoldisthorpe – “Inglesthorpe”
    Mautby – “Morby”
    Mundesley – “Munslee”
    Reepham – “Reefum”
    Worstead – “Woosted”
    Wymondham – “Windum”
    Great Yarmouth – “Yarmuf”
    It just makes things more interesting and confuses the London folk on the hunt for holiday homes and out-pricing the locals (gits!)

  32. Surely stereotypical English villages are permitted a Belgian exercising zee little grey cells?

  33. I was interested to note, from television a few years ago, that Rotherhithe is now pronounced as spelled (at least by Prince Edward). Swift spelled, and presumably pronounced, Gulliver’s hometown as “Redriff,” which always puzzled me as a boy because it wasn’t on any map.

  34. J.W. Brewer says

    I learned from I believe a prior LH thread that the Norwich/porridge rhyme I’d heard in a Robyn Hitchcock song was legit and not a mere exercise of poetic license. AJP’s claim about the opaqueness of all Norfolk place-name spellings reminds me of being in the Outer Hebrides coming on two decades ago when they’d just gotten some EU grant money to change all the place names on the road signs to the Gaelic spellings but the road maps commonly sold to tourists still had the now-superseded “English” spellings. (Many of the place names were originally Old Norse, of course, and the English spelling was arguably more faithful to the original than the Gaelic.)

  35. The Man in the Moon rhyme (expanded by Tolkien into its “original” form, but not to be confused with his expansion of “Hey diddle diddle”) certainly rhymes Norwich and porridge. Art poetry may make off-rhymes for effect, but folk poetry does not. Far more likely for the rhyme to be lost altogether to sound-change.

  36. Rotherhithe has been prounounced as spelled for at least 50 years to my knowledge. Wiki says:
    “In the past Rotherhithe was also known as Redriff or Redriffe,[3][4] however until the early 19th century, this name was applied to the whole river front from St Saviour’s Dock to Bull Head Dock.”
    I can’t find either name on current maps but it probably means the entire peninsula.
    I am trying to find out whether the Redriff usage was a variant pronounciation or, as the above seems to indicate, a different name for the area.

  37. …pronunciation .. I always get that wrong…

  38. Maureen Brian says

    St Saviour’s Dock is at E end of Shad Thames – still there with one block named St Saviour’s Wharf; Bull Head Dock apparently – from Booth Poverty Map – just to the E of the entrance to Surrey Docks – now fancifully re-named Surrey Water fergawdsake! Now no sign of it!
    So not the whole Peninsula. St Saviour’s Dock is on the Rocque Map of 1746 but the other end of that stretch still farmland with a riverside road in mid C18.

  39. I’m surprised that no one has noted the similarity of this word to the
    first century Christian manual for converts (Roman pagans to Christianity)
    The Didache (pronounced “Did uh kay.”) That apparently means “training.”

  40. I’m surprised that you’re surprised, since there’s no conceivable connection between a first-century Christian manual for converts and a modern Romany term for travelers.

  41. David Marjanović says

    Coincidences happen. The Persian word for “bad” sounds practically like the English one; in Mbabaram in northern Australia, “dog” sounds like in English; and I just learned that in Were, a language spoken in a village near the delta of the Fly River in Papua New Guinea, “boob” sounds just about like in English.

  42. kate aan de wiel says

    To go back to Didicoi, it was a descriptive term I heard as a child growing up in the depths of Somerset for the ‘Gippos ‘ who would appear at more or less regular intervals on the grass verges of the roads near Enmore where we lived. Funnily enough, we now have another encampment who’ve moved to a site next to Tulse Hill Station here in South London, next to my home…

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