Etymology of "broad" = [approx.] "gal"

Marc Velasco marcjvelasco at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jun 26 16:27:01 UTC 2008


Apparently, someone has a cite from 1911.


The general sense of broad meaning a woman, as opposed to the specific one
> of prostitute, is cited from 1911, from the September issue of Hampton's
> Magazine:
> Pretty soon what is technically known as a "broad"–"broad" being the latest
> New Yorkese–hove into sight.
> Although this general sense is cited three years earlier than than the
> prostitution sense, it is likely that the prostitution sense is older since
> the earliest citations of that are in slang dictionaries, meaning the term
> was around for a while before the lexicographers got hold of it.
> (Source: Historical Dictionary of American Slang; New Partridge Dictionary
> of Slang)


The NY cite also gives some believability to this story:


I have always thought that the slang term "Broad" was derogatory means by
which to refer to women. I assumed it's origin was due to the wide hips or
pelvic region that some women have especially after they have had children.

Then my father, an 80 year old from Brooklyn, New York, told me that
originally it was not a derogatory term. He said the term was actually used
to refer to a pretty or beautiful woman and that it was considered a
compliment. He said the word derived from the word "Broadway" because all
the prettiest or most beautiful women were working on Broadway. So,
according to Dad, the women working on Broadway became known as Broads. Then
it slowly spread in usage during the 30's and later evolved into a more
derogatory term and the origin was forgotten.

Can anyone especially those from New York or the NE coast of the US confirm
this? I have done searches and found some evidence that the term was used to
refer to pretty women but I can't confirm his story




If the meal ticket connection is too much for you, the sense could have
jumped from three card monte to woman. The goal of that game is to pick the
queen from among three cards, and *broad* could have transferred from the
card, to the queen, to women.

[I know most of this post is just gathered up wholesale from google.  But,
for sake of reference, and convenience, I was going to collect these here.
If people suggest I stop, I shall.]

- Another hypothesis (and this might just be far-fetched), would be that
_broad_ was a term for women of easy virtue who worked on 'Broad Street' in
NYC.  I wouldn't put too much stock into it, but that would seem to tie in
some of the various threads (NY, 'pretty', easy virtue).

The American Dialect Society -

More information about the Ads-l mailing list