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From Oxford Dictionaries:

geezer noun
1. a man (British informal)
he strikes me as a decent geezer
2. an old man (North American informal , derogatory)

I think in British English the word has connotations beyond meaning simply man.

Etymonline raises more questions than it answers:

geezer
1885, variant of obsolete Cockney guiser "mummer" (late 15c.; see guise).

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In Dutch, we have gozer, which is lower/middle-class slang for "bloke, chap, fellow, dude, guy". However, the Dutch word comes from Yiddish chosen, groom! Probably some kind of cross-pollination going on. –  Cerberus May 27 '11 at 17:05
    
I can't find an etymological dictionary of Yiddish online, so I have no idea where chosen came from. An alternative spelling/pronunciation is chatan. –  Cerberus May 27 '11 at 17:14
    
@Cerberus Interesting! It was also mentioned on Language Log: itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/000688.html –  z7sg Ѫ May 27 '11 at 17:19
    
@Cerberus chosson comes from the Hebrew, chatan which means "groom" –  Charles Sep 10 '12 at 16:11
    
@Charles: Yes, but where does chatan come from, then? –  Cerberus Sep 10 '12 at 20:08

5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I believe that "geezer" usage changed a lot over time.

It wasn't about age but oddness. Nowadays, in popular usage it is used to show an old person whose behavior is regarded as either eccentric or “elderly.” I'm not sure whether it has more positive connotations or negative but it had negative connotation in the past, meaning "an eccentric, unpleasant man".

And about its origin:

Originally, a geezer seems to have been ‘someone who went around in disguise’. The word probably represents a dialectal pronunciation of the now obsolete guiser ‘someone wearing a masquerade as part of a performance, mummer’. This was a derivative of guise (13th c.), which, together with disguise (14th c.), goes back ultimately to prehistoric Germanic *wīsōn, ancestor of archaic English wise ‘manner’.

There is also this link and this.

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+1 for the citation. Age (and behaviour) seem to have become less and less important in the usage of geezer over time, but I can't find any sources for this. –  user1579 May 27 '11 at 13:02
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Excellent answer, I am very happy to see that "old geezer" is not as redundant as I once thought. –  BBischof May 27 '11 at 15:15

"Geezer" actually means an odd or eccentric man.

This word came from guise, which was:

(in Scotland and N England) the practice or custom of disguising oneself in fancy dress, often with a mask, and visiting people's houses, esp at Halloween

The above is the origin of guiser.

Thus, it was used in slang to describe someone as odd, and it was pronounced "geezer" due to as you said, the Cockney accent.

However, in recent times, meaning may have changed, so that "geezer" no longer refers to someone weird, but anyone really.

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For one thing, I don't agree with your 'odd' definition, what then is a 'diamond geezer'? –  z7sg Ѫ May 27 '11 at 11:15
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A very good man. used in different ways, it can mean different things. However, where it originally came from, it meant an "odd" man. –  Thursagen May 27 '11 at 11:16
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The thing about "geezer" is that it's a very flexible word. For example "What a geezer!" would be an exclamation of admiration. On the other hand "He's a bit of a geezer" might be used to suggest that the subject had cockney mannerisms. It all depends on context and intonation. –  Marcin May 27 '11 at 11:20
    
@Idiot But original meaning can be completely different from current meaning, so I find that quite misleading, to me it has more positive than negative connotations. –  z7sg Ѫ May 27 '11 at 11:26
    
@z7sg, is that better? I hope it clarifies matters –  Thursagen May 27 '11 at 11:29

I looked in 19th century slang dictionaries, and found different origins from those in other answers.

This entry, published 1890 in Slang and its analogues past and present. A dictionary, historical and comparative of the heterodox speech of all classes of society for more than three hundred years. With synonyms in English, French, German, Italian, etc.

GEEZER, subs. (popular). — An appellation, sometimes, but not necessarily, of derision and contempt; applied to both sexes, but generally to women. Usually, OLD GEEZER. For synonym, see WITCH.

I also found this entry, published 1889, in A dictionary of slang, jargon & cant, embracing English, American, and Anglo-Indian slang, pidgin English, tinker's jargon, and other irregular phraseology

Geezer (popular), wife, old woman. Dutch slang, geeze or geese, a girl, a mistress, vide GANDER. Also a man derisively.

He'd flirt and boat, but never wrote A note to his old geezer. — J.F. Mitchell: Jimmy Johnson's Holiday.

So those sources seem to indicate that the word originally came from Dutch slang for a mistress, and started to be applied to the wife and other old women, and was derisively applied to men.

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Here in the USA, I always hear it used to mean really old (and acting it). I've started hearing "geeze" applied to old men (always men) as a verb too. Perhaps it is just my family that does that, but generally when I think that, it turns out to not be the case.

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I always thought it comes from the word for man in Basque, which is gezona. The Basque sailors used to call the English counterparts eh gezona! and it entered local slang. However, they changed it slightly to make sound more English.

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Do you have any references for this? –  Hugo Sep 10 '12 at 15:13
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As @Hugo points out, this answer contains unsupported statements, and can be improved by citing facts or references which support them. "I always thought" expresses an opinion, but we really only want answers which can be supported by the facts. –  MετάEd Sep 11 '12 at 12:27

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