Hobo Slang of the 1940s

This entry is part 12 of 19 in the series Countercultural History

Hobo Slang used throughout the 1940s

Many hobo terms have become part of common language, such as “Big House”, “glad rags”, “main drag”, and others.

The following list is by no means to be considered to be a complete lexicon of hobo slang, but it’s better to preserve fragments of a culture than none at all!


Accommodation car – The caboose of a train
Angelina – A young inexperienced child


Bad Road – A train line rendered useless by some hobo’s bad action or crime
Banjo – (1) A small portable frying pan; (2) A short, “D” handled shovel
Barnacle – A person who sticks to one job a year or more
Beachcomber – A hobo who hangs around docks or seaports
Big House – Prison
Bindle stick – A collection of belongings wrapped in cloth and tied around a stick
Bindlestiff – A hobo who carries a bindle
Blowed-in-the-glass – A genuine, trustworthy individual
‘Bo – The common way one hobo referred to another: “I met that ‘Bo on the way to Bangor last spring.”
Boil Up – Specifically, to boil one’s clothes to kill lice and their eggs; generally, to get oneself as clean as possible
Bone polisher – A mean dog
Bone orchard – A graveyard
Bull – A railroad officer
Bullets – Beans
Buck – A Catholic priest, good for a dollar
Burger – Today’s lunch


C, H, and D – Indicates an individual is Cold, Hungry, and Dry (thirsty)
California blankets – Newspapers, intended to be used for bedding on a park bench
Calling in – Using another’s campfire to warm up or cook
Cannonball – A fast train
Carrying the banner – Keeping in constant motion so as to avoid being picked up for loitering or to keep from freezing
Catch the Westbound – To die
Chuck a dummy – Pretend to faint
Cover with the moon – Sleep out in the open
Cow crate – A railroad stock car
Crumbs – Lice


Docandoberry – Anything that grows on the side of a river that is edible
Doggin’ it – Travelling by bus, especially on the Greyhound bus line


Easy mark – A hobo sign or mark that identifies a person or place where one can get food and a place to stay overnight
Elevated – Under the influence of drugs or alcohol


Flip – To board a moving train
Flop – A place to sleep, by extension, “Flophouse”, a cheap hotel


Glad rags – One’s best clothes
Graybacks – Lice
Grease the track – To be run over by a train
Gump – A chicken


Honey dipping – Working with a shovel in the sewer
Hot – (1) A fugitive hobo; (2) A decent meal: “I could use three hots and a flop”
Hot Shot – A train with priority freight, stops rarely, goes faster; synonym for “Cannonball”


Jungle – An area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate
Jungle buzzard – A hobo or tramp who preys on his own


Knowledge bus – A school bus used for shelter


Maeve – A young hobo usually a girl
Main drag – The busiest road in a town
Moniker / Monica – A nickname
Mulligan – A type of community stew, created by several hobos combining whatever food they have or can collect


Nickel note – A five-dollar bill


On the fly – Jumping a moving train


Padding the hoof – To travel by foot
Possum belly – To ride on the roof of a passenger car (one must lie flat, on his/her stomach, to avoid being blown off)
Pullman – A railroad sleeper car; most were made by George Pullman company
Punk any young kid


Reefer – A compression or “refrigerator car”
Road kid – A young hobo who apprentices himself to an older hobo in order to learn the ways of the road
Road stake – She small amount of money a hobo may have in case of an emergency
Rum dum – A drunkard


Sky pilot – A preacher or minister
Soup bowl – A place to get soup, bread and drinks
Snipes – Cigarette butts “sniped” (e.g., in ashtrays)
Spare biscuits – Skipping for food
Stemming – Panhandling or begging along the streets


Tokay blanket – Drinking alcohol to stay warm


Yegg – A travelling professional thief or burglar

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