What’s in a word? Would a rose by any other name smell as sweet? Do words shape ideas, or is it the other way around? Do the limitations of language (homonyms; synonyms; diverse word origins evolving into words sounding the same but meaning totally different things) expand our perspectives while still subtly limiting them?
“Etymology”, the origin of words, is always fascinating. Most words can be traced to Proto-Indo-European, or “PIE”, as it is often abbreviated.
The Trayvon Martin case has forced all of us to look at our own basic prejudices and assumptions.
So the question remains: What’s in a word?
Below are some dictionary definitions and etymologies for three words: “Hoodlum”, “Hood”, and “Hoodie”. When you hear these words, think of what they evoke in your mind, and then read below for the dictionary definitions and believed origins of these words.
Pronunciation: IPA: /ˈhud.lə̆m/ Etymology
Since 1871. Origin unknown, but many explanations have been put forward. Online Etymology Dictionary indicates that a guess as good as any is from German dialect (Bavarian) Huddellump (“ragamuffin”).
According to Herbert Asbury in his book The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld (1933, A. A. Knopf, New York), the word originated in San Francisco from the call of a particular street gang, huddle’em. Thousands of resentful unemployed Irish workers beat up Chinese migrants. San Francisco newspapers thereafter took to calling street gangs “hoodlums”.
hoodlum (plural hoodlums)
hoodlum: popularized 1871, Amer.Eng., (identified throughout the 1870s as “a California word”) “young street rowdy, loafer,” especially one involved in violence against Chinese immigrants, “young criminal, gangster;” it appears to have been in use locally from a slightly earlier date and may have begun as a specific name of a gang:
The police have recently been investigating the proceedings of a gang of thieving boys who denominate themselves and are known to the world as the Hoodlum Gang. [San Francisco “Golden Era” newspaper, Feb. 16, 1868, p.4]
Of unknown origin, though newspapers of the day printed myriad fanciful stories concocted to account for it. A guess perhaps better than average is that it is from German dialectal (Bavarian) Huddellump “ragamuffin” [Barnhart].
What the derivation of the word “hoodlum” is we could never satisfactorily ascertain, though several derivations have been proposed; and it would appear that the word has not been very many years in use. But, however obscure the word may be, there is nothing mysterious about the thing; …. [Walter M. Fisher, “The Californians,” London, 1876]
“gangster,” 1930, Amer.Eng., shortened form of hoodlum. As a shortened form of neighborhood it began 1980s in Los Angeles black slang.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper Cite This Source
Updated 1/1/2016: A very extensive article on the words “Hoodlum” and “Hood” can be found at http://www.frederickbee.com/hoodlum.html
verb (used with object)
World English Dictionary
1. a hooded sweatshirt
2. a young person who wears a hooded sweatshirt, regarded by some as a potential hooligan
Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition 2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009 Cite This Source
Another meaning for “hood”, is the guy on a cattle round-up that watches over the horses during the night. The wagon he rides in was known as a “hoodlum wagon”, which etymology I cannot discover. It might be simply an embellishment of the word with the 1866 term. But, why was the horse minded called a “hood”? They all wore hats. Maybe it was his wagon that was covered. Maybe “covered wagon” sounded too greenhorn, and so “hoodlum wagon” became popular. Coincidentally, the first chuckwagon was sold in 1866 as well. There had been mobile kitchens, but the standard design that was known on the big cattle drives comes from 1866.
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