As threatened, I have begun reading David Brewer’s The Greek War of Independence, and I was taken aback on page 29 to read the following sentence: “Indeed when Skouphas tried in the early days to enlist some of the rich merchants of Moscow [in the incipient Philiki Eteria revolutionary society], they sent him packing ‘with rude and barbaric jeering’ and called him an uncouth oik.” Oik?! The American Heritage Dictionary was no help, but the OED came through:

oick, oik (OIk). slang. [Etym. obscure.] Depreciatory schoolboy word for a member of another school; an unpopular or disliked fellow-pupil. Also gen., an obnoxious or unpleasant person; in weakened senses, a ‘nit-wit’, a ‘clot’. Hence ‘oikish a., unpleasant, crude; ‘oickman (see quot. 1925).
1925 Dict. Bootham Slang, Hoick,.. spit. Oick,.. to spit; abbreviated form of ‘oickman’. Oickman,..labourer, shopkeeper, etc.; also a disparaging term. 1933 A. G. Macdonell England, their England vi. 95 Those privately educated oicks are a pretty grisly set of oicks. Grocers’ sons and oicks and what not. 1935 ‘N. Blake’ Question of Proof x. 189 Smithers is such an oick. 1940 M. Marples Public School Slang 31 Oik, hoik: very widely used and of some age; at Cheltenham (1897) it meant simply a working man, but at Christ’s Hospital (1885) it implied someone who spoke Cockney, and at Bootham (1925) someone who spoke with a Yorkshire accent. 1940 M. Dickens Mariana iv. 109 The old Oik mentioned it over a couple of whiskeys. 1946 G. Hackforth-Jones Sixteen Bells 260 Come to think of it he must have been a bit of an oik when he worked at Bullingham & Messer. That crack about long hair was well merited. 1957 F. King Widow i. v. 63 He and Cooper had fought a battle with three ‘oiks’—this was apparently school slang for the boys of the town. 1958 B. Goolden Ships of Youth vii. 162, I only need my cap on back to front to look the complete oick. 1959 W. Camp Ruling Passion xvi. 126 Who’s that incredibly uncouth and oikish man? 1966 ‘K. Nicholson’ Hook, Line & Sinker viii. 95 So glad you got here before the oicks. 1968 Melody Maker 30 Nov. 24/5 Old Stinks from the third stream said: ‘I say you oik, the Beach Boys latest is fab gear.’ 1975 Listener 16 Jan. 83/1 The rigmarole about the flat was patent set-dressing, just to impress us oiks. 1975 Times 7 Aug. 7/7 His [sc. Oswald Mosley’s] angels, a gang of gullible and bloodthirsty oiks.. would come pretty far down the roster of hell’s legions.

An interesting word, but I’m dubious about the likelihood of its having been used as an insult by the merchants of Moscow 200 years ago. And doesn’t the alleged 1968 quote ‘I say you oik, the Beach Boys latest is fab gear’ involve an unlikely mixture of generational slangs?


  1. unlikely mixture of generational slangs
    It’s a joke, Joyce.

  2. OIC.

  3. joe tomei says

    Google on oiks turns up this deliciously vicious review of a Kingsley Amis’ book here with not only the keyword in the title but ‘oiky’ as an adjective.

  4. Marco: Well, yes, it’s obviously meant as a joke, I just have a hard time imagining the context in which it was thought to be funny. Perhaps someday they’ll put the entire run of Melody Maker online and I can find out.
    joe: Thanks, that was great!

  5. Oik used to be (maybe still is) English public-school slang for a boor, or someone in a lower form. I’m not familiar enough with your site yet, LH, to know if I’m doing things right, but here’s one explanation. http://www.inlyrics.com/display/Fall_Lyrics/Deer_Park_Lyrics/5846.htm
    Oiks seem to be known in the land of Oz, too.

  6. aldiboronti says

    Also used by the Sloane Ranger types (typified by the Duchess of York) to refer to all members of the lower orders (typified by us).

  7. Eliza: You can give the URL, as you did, or a direct (a href=…) link; doesn’t matter to me.
    aldi: Then I’m proud to be an oik!

  8. scarabaeus stercus says

    “oik” was sometimes pronounc’d ‘oink’, the sound a pig makes that is rutting around in the mud, dropping the ‘n’ was because of the spud that was also rolling around in ‘la bouche’ mostly used by the preppies on lesser preppies especially before prepaparition for a boot blacking.

  9. Presumably from the Greek “oikon” meaning family or household. (Sort of like the contemporary “breeder”.) A lot of Greeks are like that, as are many in the British aristocracy.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  10. I just have a hard time imagining the context in which it was thought to be funny
    The date should give you a clue. “Fab gear”?

  11. re Melody Maker: my guess is it’s an attempt to parody a public (ie private, exclusive, fee-paying) schoolboy trying to be “cool”.
    “Stink”=nickname (very public school); “third stream”=very stupid – pupils are divided into groups or “streams” on the basis of academic ability; “I say” and “you oiks” are both phrases which would be used to represent upper class speech.
    It would, I imagine, be in the context of changing class relations in popular culture. But as to whether it’s funny – no. Lame is the word which springs to mind.

  12. I am strongly reminded of 1066 and all that. Could this be an allusion?

  13. joe tomei says

    zizka’s note of Greek oikon reminds me that economy is also related. Can we start calling economists ‘oiks’ as well? Or would I be accused of being an oikonoclast?

  14. qB: Thanks! I’ve got a much better sense of how that sentence works now.
    joe: Works for me…

  15. Oik is also used as a name for a particular species of tiny wormlike creature often used in microbiology and genectic studies. It seems likely that it is a more jargon/slang term (probably based on the term you define here) than an official species name or I’m sure you would have found it listed when you looked it up. Still, everyone I know calls the wee beasties “oiks.”

  16. John Cowan says

    When I first saw oikophobia ‘fear/hatred of one’s own home’ or ‘one’s own country’, I interpreted it as a nonce term for ‘fear/hatred of oiks’.

  17. AJP Crown says

    Surely it should be interpreted as fear & hatred of people who like to use the word oik.

    It’s a joke, Joyce.
    Did people back in the olden days think your name was Joyce, Language?

  18. I don’t know! That form of address puzzled me at the time and it puzzles me now.

  19. I found this: https://everything2.com/title/It%2527s+a+Joke%252C+Joyce

    An Australian catchphrase of some vintage, evidently

  20. Fifteen years on, I am enlightened! Many thanks.

  21. AJP Crown says

    Joyce Cary, William Joyce and James Joyce being no longer with us, they must have thought that Language Hat was being written by Joyce Carol Oates.

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