- plural noun fists. This has been part of the jargon of streetfighters and pugilists since the turn of the 20th century. It originates either in the rhyming slang Duke of York: fork, i.e. a hand or finger, or from a Romany word meaning palm or hand. The word is most commonly heard in the challenge ‘put up your dukes’ or the phrase duke it out (to engage in a fist-fight).