JOHN PRINE “A HOBO SONG”
What was the word hobo derived from?
For two centuries, in both England and America, homeless wanderers from place to place had been known as tramps. Then an unknown American came up with a new word for them: hobo. Researcher Barry Popik has found it used in a http://www.answers.com/topic/breezy letter from New York City in the New Orleans Picayune of August 19, 1848: “Well, here I am once more in Gotham, after three years’ absence–three years which have passed as http://www.answers.com/topic/agreeably-2 as time usually passes with people in this digging world. During that period I have floated about and circulated round to some considerable extent…. a year’s bronzing and ‘ho-boying’ about among the mountains of that charming country called Mexico, has given me a slight dash of the Spanish.”
Where this odd word came from nobody knows for sure, but the “slight dash of the Spanish” gives a hint. It could be borrowed from the Spanish hobo, or jobo, a word which appeared in print as far back as 1516. This word, in turn, comes from the Taino Indian language spoken in the West Indies and refers to a tree that grows there. How could a tree become a http://www.answers.com/topic/tramp? Well, over the centuries Spanish jobo acquired other more relevant meanings. In Mexico jobo can refer to a Guatemalan; in Cuba, correr jobos means “to play http://www.answers.com/topic/truant.” So to avoid the http://www.answers.com/topic/taint of the term tramp, an American wanderer might be happy to adopt the exotic hobo.
In American English, it has continued to imply relatively higher status than vagrant or tramp. The exact definition has depended on who was using the word, but hobo has generally meant “a wanderer who is willing to work.”
THE HOBO CODE
An ethical code was created by Tourist Union #63 during its 1889 National Hobo Convention in St. Louis Missouri. This code was voted upon as a concrete set of laws to govern the Nation-wide Hobo Body; it reads this way:
Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.
When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.
When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.
When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.
Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose all molesters to authorities, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it. Whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!
Accommodation car the caboose of a train
Angellina a young inexperienced child
Bad Road a train line rendered useless by some hobo’s bad action or crime
Banjo (1) a small portable frying pan; (2) a short, “D” handled shovel
Barnacle a person who sticks to one job a year or more
Beachcomber a hobo who hangs around docks or seaports
Big House prison
Bindle stick a collection of belongings wrapped in cloth and tied around a stick
Bindlestiff a hobo who carries a bindle
Blowed-in-the-glass a genuine, trustworthy individual
‘Bo the common way one hobo referred to another: “I met that ‘Bo on the way to Bangor last spring.”
Boil Up specifically, to boil one’s clothes to kill lice and their eggs; generally, to get oneself as clean as possible
Bone polisher a mean dog
Bone orchard a graveyard
Bull a railroad officer
Buck a Catholic priest good for a dollar
Burger today’s lunch
C, H, and D indicates an individual is Cold, Hungry, and Dry (thirsty)
California blankets newspapers, intended to be used for bedding on a park bench
Calling in using another’s campfire to warm up or cook
Cannonball a fast train
Carrying the banner keeping in constant motion so as to avoid being picked up for loitering or to keep from freezing
Catch the Westbound to die
Chuck a dummy pretend to faint
Cover with the moon sleep out in the open
Colt Freese one who rummages for discarded food at restaurants before his meal
Cow crate a railroad stock car
Docandoberry anything that grows on the side of a river that’s edible
Doggin’ it traveling by bus, especially on the Greyhound bus line
Easy mark a hobo sign or mark that identifies a person or place where one can get food and a place to stay overnight
Elevated under the influence of drugs or alcohol
Flip to board a moving train
Flop a place to sleep, by extension, “Flophouse”, a cheap hotel
Glad rags one’s best clothes
Grease the track to be run over by a train
Gump a chicken
Honey dipping working with a shovel in the sewer
Hot (1) a fugitive hobo; (2) a decent meal: “I could use three hots and a flop”
Hot Shot a train with priority freight, stops rarely, goes faster; synonym for “Cannonball”
Jungle an area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate
Jungle buzzard a hobo or tramp who preys on his own
Knowledge bus a school bus used for shelter
Maeve a young hobo usually a girl
Main drag the busiest road in a town
Moniker / Monica a nickname
Mulligan a type of community stew, created by several hobos combining whatever food they have or can collect
Nickel note a five-dollar bill
On the fly jumping a moving train
Padding the hoof to travel by foot
Possum belly to ride on the roof of a passenger car (one must lie flat, on his/her stomach, to avoid being blown off)
Pullman a railroad sleeper car; most were made by George Pullman company
Punk any young kid
Reefer a compression of “refrigerator car”
Road kid a young hobo who apprentices himself to an older hobo in order to learn the ways of the road
Road stake the small amount of money a hobo may have in case of an emergency
Rum dum a drunkard
Sky pilot a preacher or minister
Soup bowl a place to get soup, bread and drinks
Snipes cigarette butts “sniped” (e.g., in ashtrays)
Spare biscuits looking for food in garbage cans (also see “Colt Freese”, above)
Stemming panhandling or begging along the streets
Tokay blanket drinking alcohol to stay warm
Yegg a traveling professional thief, or burglar
Many hobo terms have become part of common language, such as “Big House”, “glad rags”, “main drag”, and others.
PREVIOUS PUZZLER: The Confederate Soldiers Who Left Home
When the Civil War ended, soldiers returned home to find the lives they knew were gone. Many left again in the hopes of rebuilding their lives, and they were carrying something. What was the name for these men?
RAY: Here’s the answer. The Confederate soldiers returning home were called a name that arose out of a tool they were carrying. A hoe.
TOM: Farm hoes!
RAY: Exactly. The soldiers were walking the back roads, riding and jumping on trains, and sleeping out in the countryside hoping to find some kind of work.
They were called hoe boys, which came to be called hobos.
SOME INTERESTING LITERATURE ON HOBOS
English Literature Dissertation: A Study into Hobo Literature
by Nial Anderson, University of Glamorgan, UK
2 – Introduction: Some Background on the Hobo
7 – A Working Life?
10 – Money
12 – To hobo or not to hobo: Choice or Curse?
15 – Rail Life
18 – Hobo: Getting into Character
22 – Writers and Tall Tales
24 – End of the Road: Conclusion
29 – References
“The imaginative young vagabond quickly loses the social instincts that make life bearable for other men. Always he hears voices calling in the night from far-away places where blue waters lap strange shores. He hears birds singing and crickets chirping a luring roundelay. He sees the moon, yellow ghost of a dead planet, haunting the earth.”
Jim Tully – Beggars of Life
“Oh ridin’ on the rattlers, a-ridin’ all the day,
And nuthin’ in yer belly all along the way;
No ‘baccy in yer pocket, and no jack for to spend,
And old John Law a-waitin’ at the next division end.”