Posted by R. Berg on December 06, 2001

In Reply to: Piker posted by Jim on December 05, 2001

: : : In the midwest, "piker" is slang for a slothful individual, a welcher (more slang), and historically, a representative expatriate of Pike County, Kentucky (or Pike County, Missouri, or Pike County, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alabama ...). In Australia, "piker" is a common slang word for "someone who holds back", particularly, an individual who doesn't drink heavy. Any insight on the origin and apparent international appeal of "piker"?

: : The word has an obsolete meaning: "thief" (from "pick" + "-er"). Also used to mean a gambler who speculates; one who does things in a small way; tightwad; quitter, coward (Webster's, 1934).

: : "Have you ever heard tell of sweet Betsy from Pike? She crossed the wide prairie with her lover Ike . . . " (Traditional folk song).

: Thanks R. Berg. I'm including two references:

: www.australianbeers.com/ culture/piking.htm

: piker
: NOUN: Slang 1. A cautious gambler. 2. A person regarded as petty or stingy.
: ETYMOLOGY: Possibly from Piker, a poor migrant to California, after Pike County in eastern Missouri.
: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by the Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

: Call me a piker for picking your brain but "possibly" is what interests me. As I mentioned many states have Pike Counties (seperately interesting)and Australia has none. I'm curious how a slang word (with similar meanings) could appear in two very different places. Suggests that your reference (obsolete, thief) may be the common source, not former residence.

"Pike" has so many meanings that it's easy to imagine several origins for "piker." I have no special knowledge that would promote one origin over another. Webster's, 1934, has another definition for "piker": a tramp or vagrant (slang), probably, it says, from "pike" = turnpike = road or highway. The Pike County in Missouri is the only one mentioned for "pike" defined as "on the Pacific coast, one of a class of shiftless vagrant poor farmers."

Maybe one of these slang senses was exported to Australia from the U.S.? The Dictionary of American Slang says "piker" has meant a miser or small-minded person since c. 1900 and a coward since c. 1915.