1940s (earlier as bulldyke): of unknown origin.
There are two almost contradictory aspects to dyke: it means both ‘something dug out’ and ‘something built up’. The first group of senses began in the medieval period and derives from the old Scandinavian word dík or diki, which corresponds to native English ditch (Old English) and is related to dig (Middle English). At much the same time related German and Dutch forms gave us the second group, initially in the sense ‘a city wall, a fortification’. A possible linking idea appears in the sense ‘dam’—a dam entails both the building up of an obstruction and the creation of a pool. The Dutch build dykes to prevent flooding from the sea. This is the context of the phrase to put your finger in a dyke, ‘to attempt to stem the advance of something undesirable’. It comes from a popular story of a heroic little Dutch boy who saved his community from flooding, by placing his finger in a hole in a dyke, thereby preventing it getting bigger and averting the disastrous consequences.
The word dyke is also a derogatory term for a lesbian, especially a masculine-looking one. Originally found in the fuller form bulldyke, it has been in use since at least the 1920s, but no one is sure of its origin.
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- Ponds are separated by dikes that prevent flooding and provide access routes to the ponds for electricity and aerator motors.
- As they camped in the fields in sight of the city walls the Mongols surprised them by smashing the dams and dikes nearby and flooding the encampment.
- The Netherlands is a land protected from flooding by dykes and dams.
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