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hood / hoodlum

Posted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 6:03 pm
by Archived Topic
I was listening to an interview on NPR with Phillip Roth, author of the novel ‘The Plot Against America,’ in which he imagines what would have happened if alleged Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh had run for president and defeated FDR in 1940 and had set America on a course of fascism and anti-Semitism. During the interview the expression ‘hood,’ for cheap crook, came up and I began to wonder about its origin.

HOOD was a very common when I was growing up in NYC where in my neighborhood it referred specifically to a young punk and troublemaker, who was usually a gang member (e.g. I lived in the same apartment house with John McMan, president of Brooklyn’s infamous Flatbush Tiger’s of the 1950s, who was definitely considered a ‘hood’). In any case, I was wondering about its origin and had assumed at the time that it was somehow related to ‘hoods’ on coats (but didn’t know exactly how) and later came to think that it was perhaps related to local young punks in a ‘neighborHOOD’ – their home turf. I was apparently wrong on this last count because, that ‘hood’ didn’t appear until the late 1960s (long after my childhood) and it did refer to one’s ‘neighborhood,’ especially in Black English and especially in cities.

Though its origin is unknown, the above HOOD definitely does not derive from Robin Hood! Dating back to 1880, it is thought by most etymologists to be a contraction of ‘hoodlum.’

HOODLUM noun [1870] U.S. slang: A youthful street rowdy, a loafing youth of mischievous proclivities, a dangerous rough, ruffian, hooligan, especially one belonging to a gang, and more generally today often referring to any thug, gangster, mobster, gunman, racketeer, strong-arm man, etc. It appears that the expression had its origin in about 1870 in San Francisco and one source attributes it to the German-Swiss ‘hudilump’ and another to the Bavarian German ‘hodalum,’ rascal. The word ‘hoodlum’ later spread throughout the English-speaking world and was often heard in its shortened form ‘hood.’
<1871 “Surely he is far enough away here in this hideous wild of swamp, to escape the bullying of the San Francisco ‘HOODLUMS.’”—‘Cincinnati Commercial’ (supplement), 6 September, page 2/5>

<1880 “The HOOD who had perpetrated the outrage—a young man of twenty—was pointed out, and the steward went forth . . . to give him battle.”—‘American Speech’ (1974), XLIX, page 298>

<1891 “The San Francisco HOODLUM is different from the New York loafer.”—in “Harper’s” by Brander Matthews, July>

<1929 “‘HOOD’—Hoodlum; tough character, a criminal with or without a record, or one of criminal tendencies or associations.”—‘Racket’ by Hotstetter & Beesley, page 228>

<1930 “None of those St. Louie HOODS are going to cut in here, see?”—‘American Mercury’>

<1959 “The ‘News’ suggests ‘a special committee’ to greet the Kremlin's No. 1 HOOD at the Washington Airport’.”—‘Manchester Guardian,’ 5 August, page 1/1>

<1970 “Greedy ol’ cracker [[white racist]] holdouts who seen their ‘HOODS go but wouldn’t give up there houses to no niggers.”—‘’Walk the Line’ by Quammen, page 54> [[neighborhood]]

<1991 “A gang of school-age HOODS ran a robbery ring in the Bronx.”—‘Subway Lives’ by J. Dwyer, page 135>
(Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Ayto’s 20th Century Words, Urndang’s Picturesque Expressions, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Oxford English Dictionary)

Ken G – October 14, 2004
Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)