Is "Dyke" derogatory?

Before you tell me to, I searched and the internet can’t quite seem to agree, and half the hits are Yahoo answers, so yeah. Besides, taking the internet’s answer deprives me of all of your wit and charm!

Perhaps this can go into IMHO if this gets too opinionated, but as the title basically says: is the term “dyke” for a lesbian derogatory? On one hand, I have a lesbian friend who refers to herself and her lesbian friends as dykes. However, this doesn’t make me certain, since it could be “reclaimed language” like urban blacks using “nigga.” On the other hand, whenever I hear it in web series, or other media (usually comedy) it sounds like “you’re such a dyke” is meant as an insult. However, this isn’t quite conclusive either since “you’re such an <x>” in general is meant to deride, even if <x> is something otherwise neutral like “accountant.”

So what say ye great SDMB?

Calls for opinion; thread moved to IMHO.

I think it all depends on context and the intent of the person using it…as you say, some lesbians might use it in an affectionate way to refer to themselves and their friends (does “reclaimed language” not count as non-derogatory?); while other people might use it as a hateful slur.

Yes, it’s derogatory.

If you’re a straight person and use it, it’s derogatory.

The word morphed from hermaphrodite, sometime before 1930.

Morphadyte and morphadyke, the “folk term” for hermaphrodite, usuall applied to a horse, but sometimes to a human being…”

I used it in chumly conversation with my lesbian friend in university. But I think had I used it in a disdainful way, or added the prefix “Diesel,” then it would have crossed the line.

This is my experience and my take on it. I’m a straight female and I would never call a lesbian a d—, and I ask others not to use the word in my presence. Maybe if I was joking around with a really good pal who was a lesbian and I was using the term ironically, but never seriously.

I’ve always thought of it as the female version of fag–except, as far as I know, there hasn’t been a South Park episode that tried to make dyke okay.

Yeah, generally. lesbians (gays in general?) can use it, much as a blacks can use “nigger”, but for those not within the group in question it is offensive.
Granted, I am a straight white male so just about everything I say has potential to offend someone. What others can get away with saying doesn’t always apply to me. I wouldn’t call any of my lesbian (or bi-female) friends a dyke any more than I would use any other pejorative based on orientation, race or whatever. Even if I could, I’d feel very uncomfortable doing so.

This is almost certainly incorrect.

The first instances of the word to describe lesbians in the 1920 are all of the form “bulldyker”, “bulldagger” or “bulldyking”. It is extremely improbable, nigh on impossible, for the noun “morphadyke” to become corrupted to the verb " to bulldag". So we can probably discount such an origin.

The “bulldiking” form of the word continues as the most common usage throughout the 1930s. However in the 1930s “dyke” as a standalone also started to be used, along with other adjectives such as “baby dike” and “lady dike”. This once again strongly suggests the origin is in the word “bulldyke” and people later disassembled the word.

As for what “bulldiking” meant, that’s anybody’s guess. The most plausible explanations I’ve seen are:

  1. It was a result of the 19th century/early 20th century habit of using “bull” to mean false. We retain this in terms like “cock and bull story” and even"bullshit", but at the time it was more widespread, though not particularly common. So “bulldicker” meant literally “false penis” or “false man”. Words containing profanity are often mildly corrupted by vowel substitution to change them to another word and hence make them more acceptable in mixed company, such as “fuck” becomin “freak” or “flock”. So it’s a short step from"bulldicker" to either “bulldyker” or “bulldagger”. That usage has the advantage of making it easy to explain how people started describing non-butch lesbians as “lady dikes” and similar. If you weren’t familiar with the actual etymology it would seem reasonable that “dyke” means lesbian, and that the manly lesbians are called “bulldykes” in reference to being manly. Hence feminine lesbians become “lady dykes” and “baby dikes”.

The explanation does fall down a little at explaining why the word appears to have been originally a verb.

An alternative is that “to dick” has been slang for “to have pentrative sex” for a long, long time. So it may be that a “bulldicker” was either someone who had “false sex”.

Either way, it seems highly unlikely that the rod originates as “morphadite”.

Yup - like the others said, unless it’s being used by a lesbian in a reclaimed way.

I recently saw someone on the SDMB use ‘dyke’ as a byword for ‘unattractive woman.’ Is that the same post that prompted this thread, or is it coincidence?

Context is important, and I believe the term’s default use is insulting and derogatory.

My friend Renee can use it at any time to describe herself and her friends. I can use it in her presence because she knows me and knows that I am joking. I would not use the term around other people who may think I am being derogatory. Oddly enough, there seems to be very few occasions where there is a need to use the term (except for the annual “Dykes on Bikes” motorcycle ride.)
I would never refer to Tracy (Renee’s wife) as a dyke, and I don’t believe my wife has ever used the term in her life, but “butch” comes up as a description at times.

(As an aside, my wife has been asked to be Tracy’s Maid of Honor when they have their church wedding this fall. They were married already in a civil ceremony but want a wedding now.)

Absolutely used for self-identification as reclamation, but otherwise a slur and not to be used.

It depends on the context and who is saying it. But generally speaking, yes it is derogatory.

It’s known as the “Insider/Outsider” rule: If used by a lesbian, it’s okay; otherwise, it’s derogatory. There’s a bunch of words in this catagory; the most
(in)famous being “the n-word.”

This. Dyke is derogatory in general but has been reclaimed. As a straight person, I would use it only in the presence of close friends who know that I am not homophobic - but some lesbians are more sensitive to it than others. I have one friend who would never describe herself or anyone else that way and who would find even a joke offensive, but my best friend uses the word quite liberally and recently put together a collection of songs labeled ‘‘Dyke Rock.’’

I’m surprised there’s been no “Dick Van” reference yet.

The only Dick that a Dyke could like–Forbidden Hollywood

I would only call someone a dyke in a friendly manner if I had heard them refer to themselves that way prior, in public. Otherwise, you’re asking for trouble. And she can probably kick your ass.

That said, it’s also a common slang term for diagonal cutters in electrical and a-v electronics. One time I was at a friends club - which is a gay dance club - helping troubleshoot some issues with the PA and sound system. The club was open but it was early yet, with just a few folks grabbing a drink at the bar. Not thinking, I yelled from the DJ booth to my assistant, across the club at a speaker installation, “Did you take my goddamn dykes?”

The silence was immediate, and deafening . It was an awkward moment. Luckily the owner heard the exchange and defused the situation, letting several shocked patrons know that I was in fact just a moron, not an asshole.

I’m Dutch and have been called a Dykehopper. Secretly I get visions of lesbians seduced by my overpowering sexual prowess.

Anyway, I like phrases like “Dykes with bikes” and “Diesel Dykes” because the have a poetic ring to them to describe a type of lesbian that I do not have any phobia about. I can’t possibly sense anything derogatory.

Dicks and Dykes.

Is “dick” derogatory ? Actually I think it is. Usually meant to be bluntly derogatory. Doesn’t seem to bother anybody though.

If you’re talking about calling someone a dick, then yes, it is an insult. Er, I think it is in any language.

I like those phrases too, but I would not particularly like a straight man describing me as a dyke. Dykes with bikes isn’t any particular type of lesbian, btw - it’s not all butches that own bikes.