• hoodlum •
hud-lêm, hUd-lêm • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A young ruffian, hooligan, a street tough, a youthful troublemaker.
Notes: Hoodlum usually refers to boys (not girls) and thug, to adults. Today's word has picked up a few derivational relatives: hoodlumish "like a hoodlum" and hoodlumism "hoodlumish practice". Oddly, a hoodlum wagon is cowboy slang for a bed wagon where cowboys once slept on a cattle drive.
In Play: Hoodlums are usually mischievous lads, involved at most in misdemeanors or at worst in nonviolent crimes: "OK. Who is the hoodlum who put the frog in the water cooler?" They do tend to hang out together: "Mervin was carjacked by a roving gang of hoodlums."
Word History: Today's Good Word was first attested in a December 1866 Daily Alta California article, which mentions "the 'Hoodlum Gang' of juvenile thieves". Hoodlum Gang is what the gang called itself, so the word had been around in the San Francisco area vernacular for several years. No one knows for sure where it originated. Some have speculated that it is related to some Germanic word like Swabian hudelum "disorderly" or Bavarian Haderlump "ragamuffin". The problem with this guess is that there are no significant Germanic communities in California. Another guess is that the word originated in San Francisco from a particular street gang's call to unemployed Irishmen to "huddle 'em", meaning to beat up Chinese immigrants. The Irish at the time hated the Chinese. There are many more guesses, all worse than these. (Today's Good Word was suggested by our old friend and master word-suggester, Rob Towart.)