[Ads-l] Query about "hobo"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Tue Mar 15 14:40:57 UTC 2016


19th Century U.S. Newspapers:

1888 _Morning Oregonian_ (Portland) (Sept. 14) 8:

ORIGIN OF THE TERM "HOBO"

A Password Formerly Used by the Tramp --  Its Generalization

'"What is new to-day?"

This question was asked Police Captain Cardwell yesterday by a reporter.

"A couple of 'hobos' have just been brought in. I see by your puzzled look
you do not know what a 'hobo' is. I will tell you what we mean by the term.
It is a word used to classify all tramps and vags. The word first
originated with the Independent Order of tramps, and was used by them as a
sort of password. One tramp walking along the street seeing another, whom
by his general appearance he thinks belongs to the order, says 'hobo.'  If
the party thus addressed recognizes the word he stops and an acquaintance
is struck up.  Again, this tramp walking alongside a lot of freight cars
stops at one in which he thinks there is a brother and repeats the magic
word. It is a sesame and if this surmise is correct, the car door is drawn
back and the man outside is received within.

"From his specific use of the word has come the general term 'hobo,' which
is applied to the vag and beggar as well as the tramp."

Earlier exx. may exist, but there are far too many false positives for me
to deal with.

Stripped of its questionable, possibly romanticized details, Cardwell's
belief was that "hobo" arose among hoboes, its etymology unknown, and was
entirely unfamiliar to other people.

Neither this database nor American Historical Newspapers seems to include a
real example of "hawbaw."

JL



On Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 7:27 PM, David Barnhart <dbarnhart at highlands.com>
wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       David Barnhart <dbarnhart at HIGHLANDS.COM>
> Subject:      Re: Query about "hobo"
>
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>
> Here is the gist of the entry in The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology (c.
> 1988):
>
> *hobo*, *n*. person who wanders about, living by doing odd jobs.  1889
> American English, of uncertain origin; (the earliest quotations capitalize
> the word and refer to it as the tramp's name for himself), Compare
> dialectal English _*hawbuck*_ clumsy fellow, lout, country bumpkin (1805)
> and _*hawbaw*_ clumsy or coarse fellow, lout (1857), which may be
> forerunners of _*hobo*_.
>
> David
>
> On Mon, Mar 14, 2016 at 4:32 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> wrote:
>
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> > -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> > Subject:      Re: Query about "hobo"
> >
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > I wonder if Norm Cohen is familiar with Jon's interesting if admittedly =
> > non-definitive etymological note at "hobo" in HDAS II; that *is* more =
> > recent than 1981, in any case. =20
> >
> > LH
> >
> >
> > > On Mar 14, 2016, at 2:54 PM, Cohen, Gerald Leonard <gcohen at MST.EDU> =
> > wrote:
> > >=20
> > > I've received a request from researcher Norm Cohen (no relation)=20
> > > about the origin of "hobo," and I offered to share his request with
> > > ads-l.  If anyone can help, please contact Norm directly and also
> > > please share the information with the entire listserv.
> > >=20
> > > His request appears beneath my signoff.
> > >=20
> > > Gerald Cohen
> > >=20
> > > [from N. Cohen]:
> > > "In 1981, in my book on American railroad songs, "Long Steel Rail," I
> > > reported what was then known about the origins of the word "hobo."  Is
> > > anyone aware of any information that has since come to  light on the
> > > subject?  Norm Cohen, ncohen at teleport.com."
> > >=20
> > > Thanks,
> > > Norm
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