We all know a hobo as a vagrant or tramp, ubiquitous among 1930s train squatters. There are three possible origins of this word. One is that it's a contraction of the exclamation ho, boy!, which was a call used at workers on the railroads back when they were serious about building them. Mostly vagrants would be doing this kind of work, so that's how the association occurred. Another possibility is that it's a contraction of hoe-boy, a term so named because wandering homeless people in the olden days often took on jobs as farm hands. The final possible etymology is not associated with a single profession; rather, it's from the word hawbuck, an archaic term for a "country bumpkin", but that in itself has an obscure etymology. It's hard to know for sure, but hobo seems to be nothing more than a pure Americanism, with origins as unknown as that of a real hobo.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd