Printable Version
Pronunciation: hoo-lê-gên Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A rowdy, a tough, a nasty, a ruffian, a petty thug, a destructive young person.

Notes: We think of hooligans as gang members, young people who think it fun to damage property. This behavior is known as hooliganism. Hooligan was at one time used as a verb meaning "to bully, treat roughly" in the UK, but that usage has since fallen by the wayside.

In Play: The crucial concepts surrounding this word today are "young" and "mean", so it works well in, "Some hooligan tried to knock over my mailbox last night but broke his baseball bat instead." Every generation produces hooligans in new and unexpected places: "In his youth, Phil O'Steene was one of the hooligan artists who spray-painted their work on the walls of public buildings to the dismay of their elders and local officials."

Word History: This word first appeared in print in the police-court reports of a newspaper in the summer of 1898. That it comes from a corruption of the phrase, Hooley's gang, is highly doubtful. More likely it derives from the name of some Irish ruffian by the name of Hooligan. The name figured in a popular music-hall song of the 1890s, which described the doings of a rowdy Irish family. There was also a comic Irish character by the same name in a series of adventures in Funny Folks, a penny tabloid printed in Manchester in the late 19th century. In 1901 a hapless hobo with a tin can as a hat named Happy Hooligan came to be one of the most popular comic characters in the US. He, too, no doubt contributed to the new common meaning of hooligan. (Today we owe a debt of gratitude to the rowdy mind of Larry Brady, who keeps coming up with fascinating words like this one. Larry also created the name of the hooligan in the example above.)

Dr. Goodword,

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