An Origin For This Week

And one to burst our bubbles and make us once again rethink our use of the English language! This week’s word is: Tomboy- used when referring to a boyish girl. It can be traced back to the 16th century, meaning a harlot, and in this sense nothing to do with boys or the name Tom. The development was actually from ‘romping girl’, derived from Anglo-Saxon ‘tumbere’ meaning dancer or romper, from the same roots as the French ‘tomber’ (to tumble about). The development of the modern Tomboy (boyish girl) meaning is therefore a corruption, largely through misinterpretation and mistaken use over centuries. The early meaning of a promiscuous boisterous girl or woman then resurfaced hundreds of years later in the shortened slang term, Tom, meaning prostitute, notably when in 1930’s London the police used the term to describe a prostitute working the Mayfair and Bayswater areas. Australia and US underworld slang both feature similar references, the US preferring Tommy, but all these variations arguably come from the same Tomboy ‘romping girl’ root. In the late 17th c. in England Tom Rig was a slang term for a prostitute or loose woman (Rig meant a wanton, from French se rigoler = to make merry). In Australia the term Tom, for woman, developed from Tom-Tart (= sweetheart) which probably stemmed from early London cockney rhyming slang. The development of the prostitute meaning was probably also influenced by old cockney rhyming slang Tommy Tucker = the unmentionable…
Dunno if I want to refer to myself or anyone else as a tomboy ever again. And I was always a little proud of that description of mois!

One thought on “An Origin For This Week

  1. Makes you wonder what the perfume “tommy girl” is getting at there hey? Hhhhmmmm….
    Or is that purely the makers name -I wonder? I wa wa wa wa wonder!

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