A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What's the origin of the word "hobo"?

May 10, 1985

Dear Cecil:

For the past year or so, my wife has been after me to find out the origin of the word "hobo." Unfortunately, none of the sources I've checked has been much help. Can you help me out?

Dear William:

As usual, there are various theories: (1) bearing in mind that a hobo traditionally has been a migrant worker, not simply a vagrant, it comes from "hoe boy," a migratory farm worker. (2) It derives from the expression "hey, bo," bo being a sardonic corruption of the French word beau, a dandy. (3) It comes from "ho, boy," which was apparently what railroad mailhandlers in the northwestern U.S. yelled when they heaved mailbags off the trains.

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