Why Is Dick a nickname for Richard

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Aug 13 17:39:57 UTC 2009

At 12:22 PM -0400 8/13/09, Baker, John wrote:
>         I'm not sure what to make of the original post, but I think any
>real answer does need to take account of the fact that some traditional
>nicknames are rhyming short forms of the full given name, such as
>Dick/Richard, Bob/Robert, Bill/William, and Ted/Edward.
>John Baker

But I think you still need to bring in ease of pronunciation to
explain the *direction* of the substitutions.  "Wen" rhymes with
"Ben", but I doubt you get changes in that direction, or "Wabs" for
"Barbara"/"Babs".  Or "Rave" and "Ran" for "Dave" and "Dan".  And
this is sheer speculation, but perhaps "Bob" (instead of "Dob") for
"Robert" might be anticipatory influence from (or assimilation to)
the upcoming [b].

While as Arnold notes the OED doesn't do proper names, surely
*someone* has written a book (or at least a dissertation) on this


>-----Original Message-----
>From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf
>Of Laurence Horn
>Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 12:02 PM
>Subject: Re: Why Is Dick a nickname for Richard
>At 11:42 PM +0800 8/13/09, Russ McClay wrote:
>>Hey, my dad was called Dick so I was curious.
>>Here's something I found. Any comments? lol
>If this is a real question and you're seeking a real answer, as opposed
>to those below, I'd look for explanations based on articulatory
>phonetics and acquisition (and maybe a bit of markedness). [r] is
>learned relatively late by children, so a neighboring "easier" sound is
>substituted:  if the child retains voicing and articulatory position
>(alveolar) but changes manner of articulation, the [r] turns into [d].
>Affricates are tricky too, so [k], voiceless velar stop, replaces [C],
>voiceless palatal affricate (in lieu of a palatal stop).  Similarly, for
>"William", [b] is mastered before [w], they're both voiced bilabials, so
>the former is called on to replace the latter.  And enough kids were
>doing this to result in the hypocoristics becoming standardized.  At
>least that seems more reasonable than any of the below.
>>* * *
>>Q: Why is Dick a nickname for Richard?
>>A: a man named richard from the 40s or 50s nick named dick because he
>>was a Detective named Richard aka DICK RICK
>>The name Richard is very old and it's true origins may well be lost in
>>the depths of time past. 'Richeard' is a name from Old English where
>>'Ric' meant ruler and 'heard' meant hard. In those days of yore, before
>>word-processors, everything was written down and abbreviations became
>>common and agreed upon. Also in the 13th century rhyming slang became
>>popular so Richard becomes Rich and eventually Rick which rhymes with
>>Dick. Much like William - Will - Bill.
>>'Dick' eventually, like 'Jack', came to mean all men as in "every Tom,
>>Dick, or Harry". Shakespeare uses "every Tom, Dick, or Francis" in
>>Henry IV Part I.
>>I know a guy named Richard, and he was a total dick.
>>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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