The two words under scrutiny today came into prominence during the First World War but owe their origin to the Indian sub-continent.
This is used as an affectionate or ironic reference to Britain. It owes its origin to the Urdu word, vilayati, which was used to describe someone who was European and, specifically, English or British. A regional variation, bilayati, is probably the direct antecedent.
The word was adopted by British soldiers serving in India during the 19th century to describe their far-off home, often in the form of dear old Blighty, but it was also used, as an 1886 dictionary of Anglo-Indian words shows, to describe products that the Brits had imported into the country such as tomatoes and soda water.
However, its use took off during the First World War and was adopted both wistfully and ironically by the poets Wilfred Owen and Seigfried Sassoon to describe the homeland. A humorous weekly magazine called Blighty was distributed to the troops during the War with contributions from men on active service and subsidised through donations and sales to the public. A Blighty wound was a self-inflicted wound designed to ensure a passage home and an escape from the horrors of the front.
To have a dekko is to take a look. There are numerous ways of spelling the word and dekko seems to be the most commonly used. However, it is a misspelling of the Hindi origin of the word, dekho, which means to look. The word was adopted by the British during their time in India and was in use at least in the middle of the 19th century because Allen’s Indian Mail, a newspaper, of January 1856 contains the phrase, “The natives of the place flock round, with open mouths and straining eyes, to have a dekko”.
Its usage spread like topsy during the First World War, although it had to jostle for pre-eminence with other idioms for having a look. Soldired, particularly from London or seeking to adopt a faux-Cockney accent would use, as alternatives, have a Captain Cook or have a butchers’, both of which are examples of rhyming slang, Cook rhyming with look and butchers’ requiring the listener to insert hook to get the rhyme.
Another idiom for taking a look was to take a shufti. The origin of this phrase is the Arabic word, sufti, which means have you seen. Our notorious inability to speak another language and our magpie like habit of picking variants of words and phrases from other tongues and integrating them into English meant that this word, doubtless heard in the Middle East or Egypt, became part of the soldiers’ and, ultimately, our own vernacular.
To have a gander, which is another variant of having a look, does not owe its origin to adoption from a foreign tongue. Rather it is a reference to the goose’s habit of stretching out its neck when it is looking for predators.
So now we know!