Say what you will about the slang of today’s youth: At least most of it is etymologically traceable. What the fuck were you ’80s teens on when you started calling each other “dickweed” as an insult? More importantly, what is a dickweed? And will it get me high?
While it would be a truly fabulous name for a plant, there aren’t any living things called “dickweeds” save for the ones reading this article right now — but it is a colloquial name for a type of algae-bacteria that can cause seaweed dermatitis. The term is one of those originless concoctions that emerged from the ether one day, attaching itself to the brain of some 14-year-old boy through whom it spread.
On forums, you can find multiple men claiming that they are the sole creator of “dickweed,” and all of them are correct.
“In 1975 I was on a trail bike trip with 2 mates in the highlands of Tasmania,” one writes. “We were camped beside Lake Sorell. After a hard day’s riding in which we were witness to and had survived a multitude of stupid stunts, we decided to invent a derogatory word to describe one so foolish. In the context of the times we were constrained to keep it rather tame… but a little edgy.”
“I have been searching to find the origins of dickweed for some time, having caused a huge argument with friends when I revealed to them that I am highly probably the author of the word dickweed. Can this be traced back to Boston somehow? If anyone else remembers, do chime in, but I’m 99 percent certain I made it up on a sailing lesson 30 minutes from Framingham, Massachusetts, in 1983-4,” wrote another.
Despite the claim of having invented the word in 1975, the term didn’t become recorded slang until at least the mid-1980s. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a book of campus slang as dickweed’s first written use in 1984, and it first appeared on film in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure when Bill shouts, “You killed Ted, you medieval dickweed!”
By that point, dickweed was placed firmly into our lexicon. Still, it doesn’t exactly solve the mystery of its origin. “Dickwad,” arguably a better term, isn’t thought to have been used until 1989. Some, however, speculate that dickweed is a variation of “dillweed,” which is sort of a real thing; dill is real and looks weed-ish. In 2017, psycholinguist Timothy B. Jay told The Awl that dillweed likely became popular as an insult simply because “dill” was itself a permissible variation of “dick,” perhaps implying that dickweed emerged even before the dill variety.
Unfortunately, until one of those men on the forums can hash out the truth, dickweed will have to remain an enigma.