My answer is I don't know how the word, div or divvy originated.
I believe I first heard it being used on the BBC1 sitcom, Porridge, (1974-1977) starring Ronnie Barker. The television comedy was centred on a petty criminal, Norman Stanley Fletcher, sentenced to serve a five-year stretch at HMP Prison Slade. Perhaps due to its huge success and oft repeated shows the expression, div or divvy, spread throughout the UK. That's my theory; the book, Porridge The Complete Scripts with all the scripts taken from the show is in print, but unfortunately, there isn't an e-book version, so I can't confirm my instinct.
Nevertheless on the Internet theories abound as to its origin. Here are among the best I found.
From A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English
By Eric Partridge
- The excerpt suggests that the term divvy was used in borstals; a type of youth prison in the United Kingdom, and detention centres.
- Perhaps div is a deviation of the words, dippy or diwified.
- Alternatively an old slang term, meaning someone who guesses right about something without being an expert. (If you aren't an expert you must be either ignorant or a fool?)
- Derived from divot, a clump of turf. And clump is just another expression for an idiot or foolish person.
From a Q&A Internet forum I found this nugget of information:
A person that is a bit stupid, a waster or unemployed. The word Div/Divvy comes from a shortening of the Unemployment Dividend of the
A Northern English word from the mining community's use of different types of lamp whilst underground. The dangerous lamp
nicknamed Davy Lamp was not very safe and tended to explode, this was
replaced with the Geordie Lamp which was a lot safer. Colliers that
went underground using a Davy Lamp soon started being called Divvies.
In the so-far-as-I could-tell excellent website, Inky Fool, in the comments section:
I remember kids being referred to as "divot" back in the late 60s,
early 70s. Div was a later shortened version.
I, too, remember divot and div from the late sixties and early
seventies in South Lincolnshire. I assumed that a divot was a variant
on the theme of clod.
Which both give further evidence or credence to the "divot digger" theory.
And finally but not least, a divvy officer, a slang term for a petty officer of the navy.
Screen shot taken from Selected Plays of Louis MacNeice (1907-1963) " MacNeice one of the foremost Irish poets of this century, but he was also a distinctive, gifted, and popular playwright. This unique selection of eight of MacNeice's best plays, most of which were written for BBC Radio..."