"Bloke" etymology (speculative at best)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Thu Jul 8 03:25:01 UTC 2004

The word "bloke" = "man"/"guy"/"chap"/etc. has been used in the US (e.g.,
it appears in AS a few times) but is nowadays more-or-less non-US-an, I

Michael Quinion treated the etymology recently.

The etymological speculations publicized to date seem to be in two general
lines (both of which are mentioned, e.g., by Quinion, and in Jonathon
Green's dictionary of slang): (1) from Shelta or Romany; (2) from Dutch or

(1) There are two general subordinate lines of speculation here:

(a) "bloke" < earlier "gloak" < Shelta "gloch" (or so) (where the "ch" is
/x/ like in Scots). I accept the likelihood of "gloak" < "gloch"; the
alternative "gloch" < English "gloak" seems less likely since everybody has
a /k/ so /k/ > /x/ seems unlikely, and also since we don't have another
obvious source of English "gloak" AFAIK. The Shelta word is possibly from a
Celtic origin, e.g., from a cognate of Irish "loach" = "hero"; I don't know
how likely this is, but I don't have a better conjecture. But is "bloke
from "gloak"? I don't know of any good evidence that it is. Shelta has
Celtic and English origins, I suppose; if it has Romany origins also, this
possibility might also lead to (b) below.

(b) "bloke" < Romany (presumably "[b]loke" or so), said to be from
"Hindi/Hindustani 'loke' = 'a man'" (e.g., in Partridge). I have two
problems with this derivation. First, I cannot find any evidence of Romany
"[b]loke". Second, AFAIK there is no Hindi "loke" meaning "a man". Probably
Partridge et al. are referring to Hindi "lok" meaning "people" (also "the
public", from Sanskrit "loka" meaning also "world"/"place") (as in "Lok
Sabha" which is, I think, the Indian equivalent of "House of Commons" with
"lok" analogous to "commons"). I find this word in Hindi dictionaries (also
Marathi, Punjabi, Sanskrit cognates), but I do not find it
glossed/translated "[a] man" anywhere. Comments/corrections are requested
from anyone more familiar with Hindi or Sanskrit or Romany (of which there
are multiple dialects of course). Anyway "bloke" is not "lok".

(2) "bloke" < Dutch "blok" or Celtic "ploc"/"bloc", with more-or-less the
sense "blockish person". Of course these Dutch and Celtic words are
equivalent to English "block" (the Dutch word a cousin or ancestor, the
Celtic words apparently taken from English), and "blockish" can mean
"stubborn", "stupid", etc. (the distinction does not seem critical in the
etymological-speculation context). This derivation does not seem
implausible, but why not derive "bloke" directly from English "block" =
"blockish person" (in OED with a 16th century example) instead of from
analogous external sources? In the old expression "chip of the old block",
isn't the old block really the old bloke?

It is not at all clear to me which (if any) of these possibilities has any
merit. But IMHO a speculative derivation from Hindi/Sanskrit "lok[a]"
cannot be taken seriously without some further documentation (e.g., a
transitional form in Romany ... or adopted Hindustani [Hobson-Jobson is

-- Doug Wilson

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