This word transparently comes from “dodge,” an artful or tricky evasion.

The Oxford English Dictionary concludes, with charming naivete, that the word means “evasive” or “tricky,” but, in fact, its meaning is something definitely ropy, sleazy or both.

If you’re told “that chair’s dodgy, I wouldn’t sit on it,” you’ve only yourself to blame when you sit on it and it collapses and throws you on the floor.

And, if you ignore the warning “I wouldn’t share a house with him, he’s a bit dodgy,” your new housemate may have nothing worse than poor social skills, but don’t be too surprised to find a regular stream of shady customers at the door punctuated by occasional police raids.

“On the dodge” has a more definite meaning of engaging in dishonest and illegal activities.

Something also may be dodgy by virtue of sexual innuendo or content, poorly if at all concealed and in dubious taste. A dodgy nightclub would be one you definitely wouldn’t want to take your grandmother to — not that you would know, of course, since you wouldn’t go there yourself.

The word appears in the late 19th century. “Dodge” itself is only 300 years older and of unknown origin but perhaps from a Scottish dialect word “dodd,” supposed to have meant “to jog along.”

The evidence for this derivation, though, is distinctly dodgy. This does not seem to have been the earliest meaning of “dodge” and, anyway, where did the “g” sound come from? But there it is: Tracing words is a dodgy business.

Mark Wainwright is a freelance writer living in Cambridge. Got a question about something you’ve seen or heard around the United Kingdom? E-mail us at:

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