• dicker •
dik-êr • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Verb, intransitive (no objects)
Meaning: 1. To bargain, to argue over price or conditions of exchange, to haggle over details. 2. To fiddle or fidget (with), as in, "Don't dicker with the TV; you'll make it even worse."
Notes: Today's Good Word is an interesting old word that seems to have spread more in the US than elsewhere around the English-speaking world. It may be used naked as a noun referring to one instance of dickering or to mean simply "a set of ten". In this latter sense it has been used most widely in the fur trade, as a dicker of skins "a packet of ten skins".
In Play: Today's word is most widely used in the sense of hammering out the details of financial transaction: "Their divorce came only after three years of dickering over how to split the community property." However, this verb works for any type of agreement or transaction: "I'm not going to dicker with you over who gets the corner office. I have seniority; I get it."
Word History: Today's Good Word started out as a noun meaning "set of ten", like dozen refers to a set of twelve. In Middle English it was diker from Latin decuria "set of ten". The word has been used from ancient times in the reckoning of skins or hides. The Roman Emperor Valerian (reigned 253-260 AD) wrote his procurator of Syria to furnish Claudius pellium tentoriarum decurias triginta "30 dickers of skins for tents". Since the Romans often traded across borders with Germanic tribes, it is not surprising that the word was borrowed into Old Germanic and worked its way down to Old English. The origin of the Latin word decem "ten" is clearly related to the word for "finger", digitus. This word underlies English digit, digital, and all the words derived from these. And, yes, English ten, Russian deset', French dix, all share the same origin from a time when our ancestors counted on their fingers.