Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Wednesday's Random Slang-o-rama: Hoodlum

I suspect you probably have heard the term "hoodlum" before. However, were you aware that hoodlums originally hailed from San Francisco?

It's true!

You can read about it in the SFGate article 'Hoodlums' a distinctive San Francisco product' of the 1870s by Gary Kamia right here.

For more historical edification, there is this definition from Americanisms, Old and New (and so on and so forth) by John Stephen Farmer:

Hoodlum.—A young rough. The term originated in San Francisco, but is now general throughout the Union.

For an historical perspective on hoodlums and hoodlumism, check out Lights and Shades in San Francisco by Benjamin E. Lloyd, published 1876, which has an entire chapter on the subject (and yes, you can view and download the book with the link I've provided).

A couple of passages caught my interest. The first talks about "corner groceries," which are not at all what I thought they were (i.e., local stores to buy canned goods, milk, cheese, what-have-you):
Of evenings, these corner grocery bar-rooms are largely patronized as "loafing-places," by the mechanics, laborers and idlers, whose homes are in the neighborhood. A simple lunch is set out here, and also a card table is provided. Here young men and middle-aged men, boys and grey beards congregate at night, to talk vulgar slang, play cards for "the drinks," and smoke and chew—to go home at a late hour with heavy heads and light purses. It is at these places that the youthful San Franciscan Hoodlums are developed.

The second excerpt is the opening of the chapter on hoodlums:
THE Hoodlum had his origin in San Francisco. He is the offspring of San Francisco society. What particular phase in social life possesses the necessary fertility to produce such fruit is not obvious. It is certain, however, that the seed has been sown in productive soil, for the harvest is abundant.
The hoodlum has been called ''a ruffian in embryo." It would be a better definition to call him simply a ruffian. He has all the essential qualities of the villain. He is acquainted with crime in all its forms. The records of vice are his textbooks. He is a free-born American in its widest sense...

If these passages pique your interest, I encourage you to wander on over and read the rest in Lights and Shades, which provides a wonderful window into the world of 1870s-1880s San Francisco (and proved a very useful reference to me for A Dying Note).
"Quad's odds"; (1875) (14755206426)
Beware the hoodlums! (The title of this illustration is, believe it or not, "The Future Presidents." I shall refrain from political comment, difficult though it is...)
I just have to add a coda to this post... The illustration above is from a book titled Quad's Odds by M. Quad (pub date 1875). Here is the text that accompanies the picture:
It requires nerve and courage to be a hoodlum. The boy has got to have the heart of a man, the courage of a lion, and the constitution of an Arab. Only one in a hundred gives him credit for half his worth. No one cares whether he grows fat or starves; whether Fortune lifts him up or casts him down; whether night finds him quarters in a box or a comfortable bed. He's a hoodlum, and hoodlums are generally supposed capable of getting along somehow, the same as a horse turned out to graze. Not one boy in ten can be a hoodlum. Nature never overstocks the market. If left an orphan the average boy dies, or has relatives to care for him, or falls in the way of a philanthropist and comes up a straight-haired young man with a sanctimonious look. The true hoodlum is born to the business. He swallows marbles and thimbles as soon as he can creep, begins to fall down stairs when a year old, and is found in the alley as soon as he can walk.


Liz V. said...

How exciting for you to find a word so specific to the era and location of your book. Over time, however, it seems to have morphed into something more sinister, as well as spreading geographically. Sigh.

Ann Parker said...

The serendipity of research, right, Liz? :-)
Language is always changing... Sooooo many expressions "of the past" have vanished, or changed meaning (sometimes 180°) altogether!