Hooligan is a variant of the Irish name Houlihan or O hUallachain, and somewhere along the line some street tough of that name left it for posterity. But the specific person whom the term originally referred to has been lost to the ages. Often suggested is a Patrick Hooligan or a Hooley gang who (separately) terrorized a section of London in the 1890s. From the 26 July 1898 Daily News:

It is no wonder...that Hooligan gangs are bred in these vile, miasmatic byways.

And from 8 August:

The constable said the prisoner belonged to a gang of young roughs, calling themselves "Hooligans."

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


This Americanism meaning to skip school probably comes from the Dutch hoekje, a name for the game of hide and seek. It is first recorded in the late 1840s. The metaphor behind it is one of skipping school to play games.

From the Brooklyn Daily Eagle of 17 June 1842:

“When I was a child,” says the apostle, “I thought as a child,” &c., “but when I became a man, I put away childish things."—That is, if we rightly understand the language, he no longer drove the hoop, shot marbles, flyed kites, (not even after the Wall street fashion,) hunted birds’ nests, played “hookey,” and chased butterflies, with eyes nearly starting from their sockets with excitement.1

And from 5 June 1846:

A mother, perhaps, has a favorite young son, who “begs off” from school, or “plays hookey.”2

It is often suggested that it may instead come from the phrasal verb to hook it, meaning to run away or clear out. This verb is about a century older in Britain, but does not appear in the US until well after the 1840s,3 so it is unlikely to be the origin of the Americanism.

1”Public Amusements,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn), 17 June 1842, 2.

2”City Intelligence,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Brooklyn), 5 June 1846, 2.

3Historical Dictionary of American Slang, v. 2, H-O, edited by J.E. Lighter (New York: Random House, 1997), 144.


See honky.


See honky.


See honky.


The origin of this word for a prostitute is unknown. But while we don’t know the origin for sure, there are a couple likely explanations, the most likely being that it is simply a reference to the prostitute’s ability to snare, or hook, clients. And we do know for sure that the story of hooker being an eponym for a Civil War general is false.

The earliest appearance of the word is in Norman E. Eliason’s Tarheel Talk in a citation from 1845:

If he comes by way of Norfolk he will find any number of pretty Hookers in the Brick row not far from French’s hotel.1

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Everyone knows that hoodwink means to deceive or to fool someone, but the meaning is not apparent from the word’s roots. The hood makes sense enough, but what about wink?

Hoodwink is a bit redundant. Both roots mean to blind. The hood is a reference to a covering of the head, and while wink today usually means to close one eye, it originally meant to close both. The verb, in a literal sense of to cover the eyes, to blindfold, dates to 1562. From An Apology of Private Mass from that year:

Will you enforce women to hoodwink themselves in the church?

The sense of to fool or deceive dates to 1610 and John Healey’s translation of Augustine’s City of God:

Let not the faithlesse therefore hood-winck them-selves in the knowledge of nature.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

honky / hunky / hunyak / honyock

These are all contemptuous terms for white people, usually used by African Americans.

These terms are originally references to Eastern European immigrants. The origin may a blend of Hun + Polack. From the Chicago Daily Tribune of 14 May 1906:

Hun, Pole, Austrian, Bulgarian, Bohemian—the “Hunkies” of Illinois Steel colloquialism—indifferent to pain of shattered, burned, mangled body, grow frantic as the stretcher bearers near this fortress hospital.

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Honeymoon was originally a reference to the first month of a marriage. The honey represents the sweetness of new love and the moon signifies the changing relationship and that this love will quickly wane. The word first appears in John Heywood’s 1546 A Dialogue Conteinyng The Nomber In Effect Of All The Prouerbes In The Englishe Tongue:

It was yet but hony moone.

Richard Huloet’s 1552 Abcedarium Anglico Latinum described it as:

Hony mone, a terme prouerbially applied to such as be newe maried, whiche wyll not fall out at the fyrste, but thone loueth the other at the beginnynge excedyngly, the likelyhode of theyr exceadynge loue appearing to aswage, ye which time the vulgar people cal the hony mone, Aphrodisia, feriæ, hymenæ.

The verb, meaning to take a honeymoon trip, is more recent, dating to the early 19th century. From an 1821 letter by Mary R. Mitford appearing in Alfred G. L’Estrange’s The Life of M.R. Mitford:

How did I know but you were tourifying or honeymooning?

There is a story floating around the internet that honeymoon derives from the Babylonian practice of a new father-in-law giving mead, or honey beer, to his new son-in-law for the first month of their marriage. This is utter bunk.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


Homecoming is a peculiarly American phenomenon. It is a reference to alumni returning to their school for a visit, associated festivities and a big football game.

The term dates to at least 1913, when it is used in a 16 November article in the Chicago Daily Tribune:

Illinois, fired to superhuman endeavor by the presence of a big crowd of homecoming alumni, not only fought the confident Purdue team to a scoreless tie but also threatened many times to claim victory.

Some claim that a homecoming is a game played on one’s home field after a series of games on the road. This is a minority usage and not the original sense.

(Source: Proquest Historical Newspapers)

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