Deke (1935)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Sep 24 14:10:56 UTC 2001

At 3:06 PM -0400 9/24/01, Bapopik at AOL.COM wrote:
>    OED has 1960 and 1961.  I was looking for "Ivy League," but don't
>tell anybody that.
>    From the NEW YORK SUN, 3 January 1935, Frank Graham's sports
>column (this one about pro hockey), pg. 31, col. 1:
>    _It Seems He Caught Normie "Deking."_
>    "Aw," said the little fellow, "I caught you deking, else I
>wouldn't have been able to hit you like that.
>    "How do you spell deking?  Gee, I don't know.  I never saw it in
>print.  I guess it's d-e-k-i-n-g.  Don't you know what it means?
>Well, when a fellow is coming at you with the rubber and he tries to
>get you to make your move first by shifting his feet or swaying his
>body, or going like this with his stick, you say he is deking.  When
>a fellow is deking it's a cinch to knock him down because the
>chances are he has one foot off the ice and is off balance."

Wow.  RHHDAS doesn't have anything for this "deke" or the associated
noun any earlier than 1960 (given as a Canadianism, of course also in
a hockey context), so Barry's 1935 (1935?) find is very impressive.
The term is still used quite freely in sports contexts, the locus
classicus being for a crucial moment in the 1991 World Series when
the then rookie second baseman Chuck Knoblauch of the Minnesota Twins
deked Atlanta Braves baserunner Lonnie Smith out of his...well,
uniform on a hit to the wall on which Smith could have easily scored
what would have been the winning (and only) run in the seventh and
final game. Knoblauch pretended to be about to field a throw at
second base when the ball was actually rolling around in (if memory
serves) deep left field.  The well and truly deked Smith slid into
third and the game went into extra innings, the Twins finally winning
the game 1-0 in the 10th and with it the Series.)

The origin is plausibly taken in RHHDAS to be a clip from "decoy"
attested earlier in hunters' lingo, and a quote is included from
Hemingway (1950) in which "deke" refers literally to a duck decoy.
If the athletes' "deke" was really spawned by an earlier hunters'
"deke" (for the actual decoy), there should be pre-1935 cites for the
latter.  Or perhaps they both developed independently as clips from
"decoy", with the sports nominal and verbal "deke" getting there

Then there are the capital-D Dekes, the frat boys from DKE, but
there's no relation here.  The earliest cite for that Deke (Yale,
1871) spells it as "Deak" and has this puzzling (to me) remark:  "DKE
men are often called 'Deaks' by the others, but as this word is
somewhat akin to an epithet it is not employed in their presence".  I
can't figure out if the implication was that there's a taboo
association (but with what epithet that sounds like it?) or that it's
just used as a semi-slur.   There is evidently a bit of a reputation
problem; Mailer's Naked and the Dead has a reference cited here to "a
Cornell man, a Deke, a perfect asshole."

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