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June 26, 2003

Slang 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.

Celebrity quote:
“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?