March 25, 2004

Diamond geezer?

Among the "over-used phrases" that the Plain English Campaign has cited as as "a barrier to communication" is diamond geezer. This one is so far from being over-used, at least in the circles that I inhabit, that the obstacle it poses to communication is that I've never heard of it and have no idea what it means.

A Google search turns up 23,000 pages, of which the first few include a weblog featuring London sitcoms, restaurant reviews, railway security and "street cries of old/new London;" a jewelry store "tirelessly scouring the world to match you with your perfect diamond"; a site that identifies the term diamond geezer with people who wear brightly-colored harlequin trousers in support of a rugby team; and a music promoter offering expertise in "2 Step, Bhangra, Bungati, Charts, Dance, Disco, Drum and Bass, Dub, Funk, Garage, Hard House, Hip Hop, House, Indie, Jungle, Live Music, Miami Base, Old Skool, Old Skool (Drum & Bass), R&B, Ragga, Reggae, Rock, Salsa/Latin, Soul, Swing, Techno, Trance".

At this point, my ability to form natural classes has been already been stretched beyond its limits. This phrase is not an irritatingly overused and tired cliché, it's a complete f***ing mystery. I see confirmation here for my original conjecture that the whole Plain English Campaign thing is an elaborate Pythonic joke. Can someone offer a clue?

[Update: many clues have been offered. Anders suggests that I "have a butcher's" at this page, which glosses diamond geezer as "A really wonderful man, helpful and reliable; a gem of a man. A commonly heard extension to 'diamond'. [Mainly London use]".

John Kozak explains that

It's East End slang. "geezer" = "man", in a "one-of-us" sort of way. Here, "diamond" is approbatory, so the overall sense is "a good sort". There's a slight overlay to all this in that most people's exposure to this term is via an interminable set of films sponsored by the public lottery about East End gangsters, so most would situate it more narrowly in that context.

John goes on to ask "In the US, 'geezer' = 'old person', doesn't it? Wonder how that came about? "

And Des Small writes that

This is Cockney/London slang for "great bloke". Since you obviously can't go around believing random stuff that people tell you, here's a link to a source:
diamond geezer - - a good 'solid' reliable person.

It's on the Internet, so it must be true!

Thanks to all!


[Update 2: The OED glosses geezer as "A term of derision applied esp. to men, usu. but not necessarily elderly; a chap, fellow. " Its first citation is from 1885. Of the ten citations, four (including the first) explicitly say "old" in association with geezer, and I think that all are British sources. One of the citations is "1893 Northumbld. Gloss., Geezer, a mummer; and hence any grotesque or queer character. " This suggests the equation grotesque = old as the source of the association with old age. In (my intuitions about) American usage, this association has become part of the core meaning of the word, and to use geezer for a child or youth would have to be a joke or other special effect.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at March 25, 2004 11:20 PM