OT: some word questions

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Tue Aug 24 07:37:45 EDT 2004

Charlie wrote:

>I'm from south Hamphire (pretty near the coast) and I too hadn't heard of
>pikeys. 'Didakoi' was the word we used for non-Romany gypsies (I suppose
>they'd be called travellers now, but then there was nothing New Age about
>them). I wasn't aware at the time of its being a derogatory *word*, although
>many of my friends (not me, of course!) were pretty derogatory about people
>the word referred to, as it were, so it's hard to tell. I don't know where
>didakoi comes from linguistically - perhaps it's Romany for 'wannabe'?

Chambers gives it as "did[d]icoy, -coi, didakai, -kei, ns" from the Romany,
meaning tinker or scrap dealer, not a true gypsy.  That's the meaning I was
told as a child in Reading, where some families of Rom used to overwinter
because Reading gave them somewhere to park up and most councils didn't.
(The rest of the year, they followed the harvests round the country: hops
in Kent and so on: I always loved it when the harvests were all over and
the first Rom turned up on our doorstep to say hello and chat about what
had happened over the summer.  I have a 'brother' on the road who was born
in the same hour I was, and my mother taught him to read and write with me
before I went to school, so his mother was very much a friend of ours.)
They felt fairly strongly that the diddicoy spoiled things for them by
messing up the sites with dead cars and rotting garbage all over the place,
and they used to make a strong effort to keep to themselves and keep their
own bits clean.  I'm not going to say that they ran the diddicoy off, but I
think it was made pretty clear that they had their bits and would defend
them if they needed to.  One of the things they negotiated with the council
was that the contents of dustbins would be collected from their sites --
this was before black rubbish sacks were available, so it had to be proper
metal dustbins, and the council provided those for them in the end, as well
as stand-pipes so they had running water.  So they felt there was no real
excuse for mess and dirt.

Tinkers were not true gypsies at least in part because they weren't
genetically Romany, not of one of the families, just for a start, but the
main difference wasn't racial.  It was to do with personal hygiene.  My
mother had good relations with the Rom, and always a cup of tea for those
whom we got to know over several years; but sometimes she wouldn't invite
someone in, and she'd say "Her?  She was *dirty*!  Nothing but a tinker!"
to explain this to me when my child-feelings were hurt by a lack of what
I'd understood to be proper hospitality.  There were at least four mugs in
a cupboard that were kept for particular Rom usual-visitors because they
didn't like to use someone else's utensils -- but even then, they used to
wash them before drinking from them, just to be sure they were properly
clean.  (And my mother was never insulted by this.  She felt that it was as
near to religious as made no odds, and fair enough, not a snide comment on
her washing-up.)

Do I sound biased?  I suppose I was, and am.  I always was opposed to
'spoilers' who mess things up for other people, and the complaints against
travellers now (and I think then too) always centre round dirt and noise
and threatening behaviour towards non-travellers, none of which were
characteristic of the Rom I knew.  They'd never hesitate to 'gyp' someone
outside their own tribe, but that's a different matter: if the victim
doesn't know he has been robbed, or only got robbed because he thought he
was being clever and cheating the stupid gypsy, he isn't being hurt and
anyway he deserved it, was the way they looked at it.  :-)


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