of the Week: duke it out (verb phrase)
fight with the fists
One of the biggest mysteries about The Matrix is that despite all
the high-tech weapons available to them, the characters still choose to
duke it out with their opponents.
“She had had to support herself as a dockworker at Gateway Station…You
had to see her volunteer to help unload the ship and impress them all
that she could do it. Otherwise you'd never believe that she could duke
it out with the Alien queen.”
-Director James Cameron, talking about the character Ripley in Alien
Since duke it out is a typical American expression, you
might assume that it was related to “The Duke” (John Wayne)
since he was often seen fighting in movies. However, though the expression
is American, its roots are not.
The word dukes (fists) has been around since the mid
1800s, and comes to us from Cockney rhyming slang, a complicated linguistic
system from a neighborhood in East London. How does it work? First, there’s
a rhyme that represents a word – for example, apples and
pears for stairs or Britney Spears for beers.
If remembering that isn’t difficult enough, the rhyming part is
often left out, so you end up with sentences like “I drank too many
Britneys and fell down the apples.”
What about dukes? The Cockney slang is duke of
york for forks. Of course, that doesn’t make any sense
unless you know that forks is slang for fingers. And
you though American English was illogical!
What’s new at Slang City?
In Ask AC, the topic is racial insults. Michael from
Australia asks what does cracker
mean and where does it come from?