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Hobos, Tramps and Bums

"Be a hobo and come with me
From Hoboken to the sea"


"Hobo" is a pretty cool word. So cool, in fact, that it can make you forget about "tramp." Forget, that is, until you run across these passages in Of Mice and Men:

"There is a path through the willows and among the sycamores, a path beaten hard by boys coming down from the ranches to swim in the deep pool, and beaten hard by tramps who come wearily down from the highway in the evening to jungle-up near water."

George to Lennie:

"I got three can of beans in my bindle. You get a fire ready. I'll give you a match when you get the sticks together. Then we'll heat the beans and have supper."

(Only now do I realize that the abominable snowman character in the Chuck Jones Bugs Bunny short is based on Lennie.)

The difference between a hobo and a tramp? Etymologically, tramp means to walk with heavy steps: Bart Kennedy:

"I listen to the tramp, tramp of my feet, and wonder where I was going, and why I was going."

So tramps are homeless people, vagrants who hike from place to place, looking for temporary work, like George and Lennie.

Hobos, on the other hand, prefer to jump on freight trains, rather than walking. Both terms were popular in American English from the late 1800s until the forties. During the Great Depression, their usage increased, as the number of hobos and tramps increased.

Later, "tramp" also came to mean a sexually promiscuous female, or even a prostitute. "Tramp stamps" are the tattoos you see on the lower backs of girls.

A bum is different from a tramp or a hobo in that he doesn't travel, nor does he look for work. He supports himself by begging or stealing.


Moondog, Be a Hobo
John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men
Wikipedia entry on tramp
Chuck Jones, The Abominable Snow Rabbit


Gypsy's, Tramps and Thieves

But every night all the men would come around...
and lay their money down.

Re: Gypsy's, Tramps and Thieves

You hear it from the people in the town. II was thinking about that song as I was writing.

I Know

because we are psychically connected.
But you knew that.
I'm just saying.


In the day we sweat it out in the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway 9,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected and steppin out over the line
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
Its a death trap, it's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young
'cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run

How about this one?

Drifter. Luke the Drifter.

November 2018



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