Origin: 1960–65; expressive coinage; compare similar phonetic elements in dolt, dong3, jerk1, etc.
Word story The history of dork is a short one. It’s been around only since the 1950s or 60s, originally as a slang term for “penis.” Most likely dork was just an alternative form of dick, a word that started out as a nickname for Richard—a name meaning “fellow”—but which by the late 1800s, had taken on the additional meaning of “penis” (which is certainly part of a fellow) in British army slang. By the late 60s, American college students had extended the meaning of dork to refer to a socially awkward person. While at first this sense of dork carried pejorative connotations, the term has since been “taken back” by the people it once so cruelly described, and now can even be given as a compliment. If a girl calls a guy “adorkable” (the combination of “dork” and “adorable”), she means to say he is cute in a socially awkward, yet endearing way. Geeks and nerds, while still dorky, are generally considered more intelligent than dorks. Next time you call someone a dork think about its short history in the English language, and reflect upon what a word nerd you are.
Popular references —King Dork: A coming-of-age novel by Frank Portman, first published in 2006. —Son of Dork: A powerpop band from the UK. —Dork Tower: An online comic by John Kovalic.
“[O]ver there he wouldn’t be no fatboy or dork or kid no girl had ever loved; over there he’d be a hero, an avenger.“ —Juno Díaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao(2007)
“[W]hile I’m definitely a dork, I’m not a nerd...I’m lucky that they’re popular enough that they don’t have to worry about…being seen with a dork like me.“ —Robin Friedman, The Girlfriend Project(2007)
“The terror-image he had was of having to go naked into a communal shower and having the other draftees laugh at the size of his dork.“ —Desmond Stone, Alec Wilder in Spite of Himself (1996)