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shameless pleading

Dopey Dildock

Immortal stupidity.

Dear Word Detective: I referred to someone as “dopey dilldock” the other day, and my wife said her mother used the same expression.  Any ideas on the origin of this one? — Charles.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when the odd sayings of our parents we perceive, or something like that.  Tracking down “dopey dilldock” turned into an all-day endeavor for me.

I started with the assumption that “dopey dilldock” means “a stupid person,” which seems reasonable given the usual meaning of “dopey” (originally “appearing to be under the influence of dope” i.e., drugs).  In searching online for the word “dilldock” (or “dildock”), I came across several references to a 1918 movie called “A Perfect 36,” starring Mabel Norman.   Interestingly, in the film the actor Rod La Rocque played a character named “O.P. Dildock.”  Hey, it rhymes with “dopey dilldock”!  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a plot synopsis, so whether La Rocque played a doofus remains a mystery.

Fortunately, this dead end was quickly superseded by a live hit in the form of a citation for an obscure newspaper comic strip of the 1930s called, bingo, “Dopey Dildock.”  And when I say “obscure,” I mean “virtually unknown.”  The only reason it hasn’t entirely disappeared down the memory hole is that it was an early effort by the cartoonist Gus Edson, who went on to create “Dondi,” an enormously (and inexplicably, in my opinion) popular strip about an Italian war orphan adopted by an American GI (who apparently never noticed that the kid’s eyes were just big black dots).

But while Edson’s later efforts were highly successful, it seems unlikely that “Dopey Dildock” could have become a popular catchphrase based on an obscure 1930s comic strip.  Indeed, Edson obviously chose that name for the strip because the phrase “Dopey Dildock” was already popular, and had been for decades.

“Dopey Dildock” dates back to at least the first years of the 20th century and possibly earlier.  There are various theories about the phrase, but the most plausible, to me, appeared in an article in the journal American Speech in 1981.  Etymologist Henry Stern suggested that “dildock” might be rooted in the German dialect word “dildap” or “diltap,” meaning “a silly, foolish, inept person” (the “dil” coming from the same root that gave us the English “dull”).  Stern also ventured that the term arrived in the US with German immigrants, which would explain why it is unknown in England but apparently was common at one time in areas of the US with a strong German heritage.

In any case, the alliterative (and slightly redundant) form “dopey dildock” was evidently still popular in the US in the 1950s, and “dildock” is still seen used as an insult on the internet.

26 comments to Dopey Dildock

  • Tim Johnson

    Comment on Dopey Dildock.

    If Dondi married Little Orphan Annie and they had children, would the children be blind?

  • susa

    Wow! I’m impressed to no end!

    I thought everyone still alive forgotet dopey dildock and dondi!

    I lived each Sunday in the 50s to read dondi.

    Not a bad boy to have at hand!

    Thanks, and keep the past alive.

    Susa

    PS–Dondi and Orphan Annie could never marry. His ship hadn’t come in before she was taken in by Daddy Warbucks.

    This should be filed under “near misses in comic history.”

  • thought everyone still alive forgotet dopey dildock and dondi!

    I lived each Sunday in the 50s to read dondi.

    Not a bad boy to have at hand!

    Thanks, and keep the past alive

  • Jean Shepherd on his radio show used to speak of Ocky Dilldock as a stereotype for an uneducated, ignorant person.

  • Jim Marker

    Oppodeldoc was an ointment compounded by Paracelsus, and was used as a medicine into the 18th century. From the Wikipedia, “The name Old Opodeldoc was formerly used as a standard name for a stock character who was a physician, especially when played as a comic figure. Edgar Allan Poe used “Oppodeldoc” as a pseudonym for a character in the short story “The Literary Life of Thingum Bob, Esq.” Perhaps the use of a comic (perhaps dopey) character with the name Old Oppodeldoc was corrupted to “Dopey Dilldock”

  • Nancy McComas

    My Aunt Rosemary used to use that phrase when I was growing up in the 50′s. For some reason it comes to mind now and then. This morning I was speaking of the phrase to my husband, telling him I would ‘Google it’ to see where it originated…I was certain it came over from Ireland, since my Aunt’s parents were from there. I didn’t know it was in a comic strip. I had forgotten all about Dondi!!!

  • Q

    My parents, both of whom were born in 1912, used the expression “dopey dildock.” They both came from the New York City/New Jersey area.

  • Ray

    My mother, born 1915 and her sister in 1920, used the expression dopey dildock when I was growing up in northern New Jersey in the ’40s and ’50s.
    It’s been over 50 years since I thought of Dondi!

  • julie

    My mother born in 1914 of german origin also used the expression in the 60′s in Chicago

  • amanda

    I read this post and was reminded of a recent game of Balderdash I played where ‘dildock’ was the word. I just thought I’d share the definition the game gives. According to them, a dildock is a person who uses a marked deck of cards in gambling.

  • John

    WOW, Dondi!I remember him too.
    One, Dondi and Annie would have children without eyes and that is OK. Look at Annie, on Broadway and all.
    Two, Daddy Warbucks could never stop Dondi. Those Italian boys, when Annie hooks up with him it is all over!

  • My dad (born 1913) would use the term Dopey Dildock as a term of derision when we would act stupidly; he would also use the term Ocky Bop.

    Where did Ocky Bop come from. Did anyone else’s parent (or grandparent) use that term?

  • Teri Shaffer

    My parents, born 1908 and 1919 in NYC, would often use the expression Dopey Dildock when they did something stupid. I just thought of it and looked it up, never expecting it was real. How wondrous is that?

  • Mike Love

    Parents born in the 1910s. NJ-NY area. Used that term in 50-60s. Don’t recall ever using myself. The internet is indeed a wondrous tool. It renders one whose brain can retain numerous triva—well, trivial.

  • Wayne Daugherty

    When I was a kid, listening to radio in my room circa 1949-1951, I listened to a show called “Can you top this” where a panel of guys told jokes, many sent in by listeners. I remember a recurring name in the jokes, and it was Dopey Dilldock. He would always be the simpleton in the jokes with, of course, the funny lines. The name itself sounded funny, as–inexplicably now–much of the humor of that time was to me then.

  • Jim Damewood

    Aha! I’ve been trying to think where I’d heard it and was fairly sure it was from an old radio show, but couldn’t remember which one. That was a great show. The three guys were given a topic and had to come up with an example. Thanks, Wayne.

  • The name suddenly came to mind. Just checking out Google and it didn’t let me down. I seem to think that maybe Steve Allen uttered the phrase. How about Senator Claghorn?

  • banshee

    My parents grew up in the 1930s in NYC and they both used the expression Dopey Dildock. I still remember Dondi, BTW! I loved the Sunday funnies when I was a kid in the late 50s/early 60s.

  • banshee

    I am still trying to track down a very short-lived comic strip about a nun. I think her name was Sister Suzie. It was a one-panel strip that I think ran in the NY Daily News.

  • My Mom, born in 1916 in Jersey City-NJ in a neigborhood of all Irish descent, always used the term “dopey dildock” when we did something stupid. This was interchangeable with another saying “you big gom”. I wasn’t a big Dondi fan nor of Little Orphan Annie either but I loved when Chuck McCann on his Sunday morning TV show would read those comics to us while dressed as the character.

  • Joan Sonnenschein

    My parents, New Yorkers born in 1902 and 1906, also used the expression “Dopey Dildock,” usually referring to me when I did something knuckleheaded. I, too, heard in on “Can You Top This?” I believe the panelist who used this character was Senator Ford.

  • Starbaby Lon

    My dad did a drawing of “Dopey Dilldock” in the 1930′s or ’40′s and he said that he won the Tribune award for his drawing. My dad’s name is Clarence N. Burke Sr. He is the father of the singing group, “The Five Stairsteps”. OoH Child

  • Tom Padilla

    My late aunt (b. 1928) used a possible variant, “dopey dimdock(s).”

  • Elda Carrigan

    Thank you everyone who responded to the inquiry on Dopey Dilldock. The internet can be a wonderful tool. My Mom (born 1915) used this and many other expressions that as kids we took for granted. She would love to have read your comments.

  • Deidre Digel

    I’m not sure but I think I remember my Grandma Digel (b.1890-d.1986) saying “that’s when we knew Uncle Forest had gotten into the O. P. Dildock (or O.B. Dildock?). I thought she meant he had been drinking, maybe some “medicinal” tonic that had some alcohol in it, like old cough syrups used to. Anybody ever hear of anything like that?

    In addition to the mention of the comics character, Dopey Dilldock, and Opie Dildock, I’ve also found that “O.P. Dildock” was the pen name (nom de plume) for C.W. Jay, an “intellectual” farmer (b.1815 in N.J.) who naturally morphed into an editor and a popular public speaker.

    So, for now I’m thinking I must have misunderstood my Grandma, or maybe her reference was really obscure. It is nice to know other people like to hunt for meanings of words too! The internet expedites the process quite a lot. Thanks for being here.

  • Bruce I. Glover

    Me mum , born in 1920 in the Bronx used this the term ” dopey dilldock” when she referred to someone not so bright. Both her parents were of German descent . thanks for posting this trivial history of the term. Ilar

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