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"fellow, lad, man," 1550s, rhyming nickname for Rick, short for Richard, one of the commonest English names, it has long been a synonym for "fellow," and so most of the slang senses are probably very old, but naturally hard to find in the surviving records. The meaning "penis" is attested from 1891 in Farmer's slang dictionary (possibly British army slang). Meaning "detective" is recorded from 1908, perhaps as a shortened variant of detective.
c.1300 (surname Botouner "button-maker" attested from mid-13c.), from Old French boton "a button," originally "a bud" (12c., Modern French bouton), from bouter, boter "to thrust," common Romanic (cf. Spanish boton, Italian bottone), ultimately from Germanic (see butt (v.)). Thus a button is, etymologically, something that pushes up, or thrusts out.
Meaning "point of the chin" is pugilistic slang, by 1921. A button as something you push to create an effect by closing an (electrical) circuit is attested from 1840s. Button-pusher as "deliberately annoying or provocative person" is attested by 1990 (in reference to Bill Gates, in "InfoWorld" magazine, Nov. 19). In the 1980s it meant "photographer."
late 14c., "to furnish with buttons;" early 15c., "to fasten with buttons" (of a garment,) from button (n.) or from Old French botoner (Modern French boutonner), from boton (n.). Related: Buttoned; buttoning. Button-down (adj.) in reference to shirt collars is from 1916.
button but·ton (bŭt'n)
A knob-like structure, device, or lesion.
[1908+; fr a shortening and altering of detective]
[perhaps fr the nickname Dick, an instance of the widespread use of affectionate names for the genitals; perhaps fr earlier British derrick, ''penis''; perhaps fr a dialect survival of Middle English dighten, ''do the sex act with,'' in a locution like ''he dight her,'' which would be pronounced ''he dicked her'']
big dick, every tom* dick* and harry
7 (also button man or button player or button soldier) A low-ranking member of the Mafia; soldier (1960s+ Underworld)Related Terms