Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Apr 6 00:06:39 UTC 2005

On Tue, 5 Apr 2005 11:05:15 +0100, Michael Quinion
<wordseditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG> wrote:

>On this side of the pond, we've been enjoying "Deadwood". One word
>puzzles me. Ian McShane's character, Al Swearengen, often refers to
>the customers at his bar (and other people he doesn't respect) as
>"hoopleheads". (Or have I misheard it?)
>HDAS implies that the word is from the cartoon character, which first
>appeared in 1923, with the first example of "hooplehead" being from
>1979. That would make Swearengen's term anachronistic. That wouldn't
>be surprising, but might the scriptwriters be drawing on another
>usage unknown to my reference books?

Here's a posting to a "Deadwood" fan forum:



I've actually spent way too much time on the hooplehead question and it is
still not entirely clear...but I think the lack of clarity is because it
is not consistently applied.

I've seen two pretty strong arguments for references to Dutch immigrants
in the Dakota territories who were barrel makers and coincidentally wore
large brim hats.

Contextually, it seems that Al uses it as a general moniker for anyone who
isn't on his social plane (but who is?), has alcohol or drug issues, or is
"from off" i.e., immigrants.

No idea where the poster is getting the information about Dutch
barrelmakers, though Dutch "hoepel" does mean '(barrel) hoop'.  See also
this HDAS cite listed under def. 1 of "hoople" ('finger ring'):

     1848 Bartlett _Amer._ 180: (Dutch, _hoepel_.) The boys in the
     city of New York still retain the Dutch name _hoople_ for a hoop.

--Ben Zimmer

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