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#1
Old 10-19-2012, 07:53 PM
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How did the word TRAMP come to mean an insult?

So, my 13 year old daughter just stumped me and I am hoping you can help us. She is confused over the word "tramp" and what it means. She understands that to be called one is not a nice thing - but she wonders why then Disney would name a movie "Lady and the Tramp" or why I would have a song on my Ipod called "That's why the Lady is a Tramp" (and what did that lady do that was so bad?!)

So I've searched etymology sites and have come up empty. I can't imagine we are the first ones wondering when the definition of tramp went from a harmless verb (stomping) or noun (vagabond) to a nasty description of a lady and her moral values.

Can you help?
#2
Old 10-19-2012, 08:16 PM
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How "tramp" got to mean a woman of easy virtue I do not know. My guess would be that it derives somehow from the vagabond sense (which in turn comes from the verb meaning to walk, doggedly and joylessly). Perhaps (I am just guessing here) the thinking was that whereas a homeless man becomes a tramp/hobo, a woman in similar unfortunate circumstances is likely to become a prostitute. I think it may have meant prostitute before it simply came to mean slut.

However, the song “That’s Why the Lady is a Tramp”, is using the word (in its “slut” meaning) ironically. The lady in the song is actually being praised. The song is saying, in effect, that because she behaves unconventionally, some people might take or for a “tramp”, but in fact she is not; she is not promiscuous, but is actually a free spirit who thinks for herself and is not bound by social convention. (We had a thread on this in Café Society not too long ago.)

As for the Disney movie, I think it is reasonable to assume that the title is based on the song, which was a big hit for Frank Sinatra around the time the movie appeared. The plot and characters, however, have nothing to do with the song. In the movie, the Lady is indeed a lady (well, a lady dog, seeing as it is a Disney cartoon), a pampered and rather snobby lapdog, and the Tramp is a tramp in the vagabond sense, a raffish lower class male dog who wins her heart.

Incidentally, I think "tramp" only commonly means slut in the USA. In Britain, it still normally means vagabond.

Last edited by njtt; 10-19-2012 at 08:19 PM.
#3
Old 10-19-2012, 08:22 PM
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FWIW the OED dates the word as referring to a "tramping" worker/vagrant/beggar to at least 1664, and to a sexually promiscuous woman to at least 1922.


a. A person on the tramp; = tramper n. 2; one who travels from place to place on foot, in search of employment, or as a vagrant; also, one who follows an itinerant business, as a hawker, etc.

1664 in Verney Mem. (1904) II. 204 Thay goo so Lick trampis, so durty, tis a sham to see them.
1790 F. Grose Provinc. Gloss. (ed. 2), Tramp, a tramp; a beggar. Sussex.
1808 Agric. Mag. III. 43 A certain class of wandering labourers known by the name of tramps.
1828 W. Carr Dial. Craven (ed. 2), Tramp, a pedlar; called also a tramper, an itinerant tinker, or one who travels with any kind of wares.
1842 in E. Chadwick Rep. Sanitary Condition Labouring Population viii. 357 These houses are stages for the various orders of tramps.
1860 E. B. Ramsay Reminisc. Sc. Life 1st Ser. (ed. 7) 157 A wretched woman, who used to traverse the country as a beggar or tramp.
1883 P. Schaff et al. Relig. Encycl. II. 910/1 Monks, who..roamed about in the country, and really were neither more nor less than tramps of the most indolent and impertinent description.

b. slang (orig. U.S.). A sexually promiscuous woman.

1922 E. O'Neill Anna Christie i. 119 Sure—and another tramp with her.
1936 D. Powell Turn, Magic Wheel i. 60 A wayward, double-crossing, lying little tramp.
1959 ‘J. Welcome’ Stop at Nothing ii. 28 You can usually tell..the nice girls from the tramps.
1971 Sunday Nation (Nairobi) 11 Apr. 19/2 Even in these permissive times the girl of your age who can't say ‘no’ can pretty soon earn the title of tramp among her contemporaries.
1979 R. Jaffe Class Reunion i. v. 49 Who could blame Richard, so young at prep school, for fooling around with the local tramp?

Last edited by zombywoof; 10-19-2012 at 08:23 PM.
#4
Old 10-19-2012, 08:29 PM
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Seems straightforward to me. A tramp is a man who moves from town to town. A tramp is woman who moves from man to man.

Quote:
....and what did that lady do that was so bad?!
Nothing.

That's the whole point.
#5
Old 10-20-2012, 07:22 AM
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It's not clear to me that even within the U.S. "tramp" is still commonly used to mean "slut." It sounds distinctly old-fashioned to me. It's the sort of term that could be part of the title of a 1950's movie because it was still in frequent use then, but I would be surprised to hear anybody use it anymore. Perhaps this is why a thirteen-year-old might be confused by the term. In fact, I suspect that even in the 1950's it might have started to feel old-fashioned and ripe for use in an ironic sense. The movie Pal Joey where Sinatra sings "The Lady Is a Tramp" is based on a musical based on a novel published in 1940. This is why, I suspect, the term could be used in 1950's movies. The term was mostly used humorously in Pal Joey and The Lady and the Tramp.
#6
Old 10-20-2012, 08:12 AM
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There may have been a resurgance in usage, built from the term "tramp stamp" for a lower-back tattoo on a woman. We members of an older generation may still hear it as only slightly risque, but it might be more harsh to younger folks.
#7
Old 10-20-2012, 10:58 AM
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Yes, originally I guess "tramp" meant something like hobo - i.e. a wander. I don't know what EUrope had (other than gypsies, a whole new topic), but in the USA the country was so big and railroad coverage was everywhere, so hobos would ride the rails, camp on the edge of town in the bushes, and indulge in low-life activities like theft and begging. Partly it was poverty, pertly it was what the equivalent of today's mentally afflicted homeless did in the days of vagrancy laws when you could not necessarily live on big city streets.

As pointed out above, a woman in this situation was most likely to sell (or rent) or give away her available assets for food, shelter, or because she had no say. Generally, it was even less appropriate behaviour for a lady than for a man... Ah, the double standard. I agree, it's getting dated but not as dated as "floozy" or "hussy". Recall a commercial on how to stop kids from repeating what they say at home - feed them their favourite snack - featuring one cute boy say "My sister dresses like a floozy".

Then there's the language barrier between English and English. I remember a billboard in New Zealand several years ago, featuring a scantily clad woman (I think it was a lingerie ad) saying "I only tramp for the scroggins." According to a local, that roughly translates as "I only hike so I can eat granola." Potayto, potahto.

Last edited by md2000; 10-20-2012 at 10:59 AM.
#8
Old 10-20-2012, 11:02 AM
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"Tramp" meaning a vagabond is still occasionally used in the US by, well, the tramps themselves. Traditionally, a hobo is someone who rides freight, moves from place to place and works seasonally; a tramp moves around and doesn't work; and a bum is a homeless person who stays in one place. This definition is found in sources like "The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha", the story of a woman hobo from the early 20th century. There's also "rubbertramps" who own cars, and "leathertramps" who walk around and hitchhike. There's a pretty big travelling subculture which I've been a part of on and off for a few years.

Trampfest is an annual-ish event. It was founded in response to fears that the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa was getting too commercialized.
#9
Old 10-20-2012, 11:26 AM
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Tramp was a very popular title in the sleaze paperback world. These went all the way through the 1950s.

Reno Tramp
Men Call Her "Tramp"
The Lady Was a Tramp
Television Tramp
Tramp Girl
Case of the Village Tramp
Epitaph for a Tramp
#10
Old 10-20-2012, 12:01 PM
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A possible connection may be people who go outside generally accepted social rules. Traditionally, a man was expected to be responsible and hold down a job and a woman was expected to maintain her virtue. A tramp in both cases would be somebody who decided to ignore these expectations.
#11
Old 10-20-2012, 12:21 PM
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Every culture that has even a pinch of misogyny has a meme that it's not appropriate for women to be out and about moving freely around the city as she pleases, and that a woman who does so is surely up to no-good and should be subject to the sexualized insults that are commonly used to keep women in line.

Even a couple generations ago in the US, women might be free to go shopping or move about to do household tasks, but men would be uncomfortable with their wives or daughters being seen taking the subway wherever or wandering around the city on her own.
#12
Old 10-20-2012, 04:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by even sven View Post
Even a couple generations ago in the US, women might be free to go shopping or move about to do household tasks, but men would be uncomfortable with their wives or daughters being seen taking the subway wherever or wandering around the city on her own.


A couple generations ago is between 40 and 70 years. I doubt very much that you can provide evidence that more than a tiny minority in the US between WWII and Woodstock objected to women being seen on the subway or wandering around the city.

Even in WWI nobody was uncomfortable with women being unchaperoned. You really need to go back to pre-Edwardian times to find that attitude, and even then it was distinctly old-fashioned.
#13
Old 10-20-2012, 05:08 PM
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It's not that a woman can't be unchaperoned, but the idea that it's a little unseemly for a woman from a good family to be seen wandering all over town rather than at home where she should be. Being seen out and about often would be an easy way to get some gossip going about you.

The original 1972 Stepford Wives book, for example, states " Do not leave the house without his permission. If you have to leave, call him and let him know where you will be." While this is obviously a satire, it points to the expectation that women will stick close to home.
#14
Old 10-20-2012, 05:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Wendell Wagner View Post
It's not clear to me that even within the U.S. "tramp" is still commonly used to mean "slut."
Google news. Last month:

Madonna flaunts Obama tramp stamp

When did Halloween turn into tramp or treat? (Referring to pre-teen girls wearing slutty costumes).

The 'little tramp' paradox: don't blame the kids. (A story about teen and pre-teens dressing slutty.)

The HPV vaccine won't turn your daughters into tramps.

Trick or tramp? When did women's Halloween costumes become so naughty?

Seems like the term is still commonly used to mean "slut." Of course this may be one of those words that is only ever seen in newspapers, but I don't think so. The fact that it is used in the entertainment and human interest sections of newspapers suggests that it's a common US usage. I also hear it with some regularity in casual conversation. In my experience it's a less offensive word than slut, and with a subtly different meaning. A slut is a sexually promiscuous woman. A tramp may act or dress low class, but may not actually be promiscuous. It's closer to "skank" or "slapper" than "slut"
#15
Old 10-20-2012, 05:26 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by even sven View Post
Every culture that has even a pinch of misogyny has a meme that it's not appropriate for women to be out and about moving freely around the city as she pleases, and that a woman who does so is surely up to no-good and should be subject to the sexualized insults that are commonly used to keep women in line.

Even a couple generations ago in the US, women might be free to go shopping or move about to do household tasks, but men would be uncomfortable with their wives or daughters being seen taking the subway wherever or wandering around the city on her own.
But "tramp" meant a male social outcast long before it meant a female social outcast. Indeed, in Britain the word still does mean a vagabond (almost always male) and has never been in wide use to mean a slut. Vagabonds are tramps because they tramp (walk about) everywhere; loose women are tramps by extension from the vagabond sense, because, like male vagabonds, they choose to, or are forced to, live outside the normal structures, supports and rules of society. The sexual double standard only comes into play in terms of the different things such outcast men and women can do to survive. Hence (female) "tramp" first means prostitute, but is then extended and softened to cover any promiscuous woman.

Last edited by njtt; 10-20-2012 at 05:27 PM.
#16
Old 10-20-2012, 08:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by even sven View Post
It's not that a woman can't be unchaperoned, but the idea that it's a little unseemly for a woman from a good family to be seen wandering all over town rather than at home where she should be. Being seen out and about often would be an easy way to get some gossip going about you.

The original 1972 Stepford Wives book, for example, states " Do not leave the house without his permission. If you have to leave, call him and let him know where you will be." While this is obviously a satire, it points to the expectation that women will stick close to home.
Department stores came into existence to provide a respectable place for women to shop outside their neighborhoods. They date in large cities to just after the Civil War and became shopping palaces by the 1880s. Women went there in enormous numbers, and did so by using public transportation or walking from surrounding areas. Walking long distances was common. My mother lived 1 1/2 miles from downtown and walked there regularly with her adult girlfriends. This predates WWII and everybody having a car.

There might have been issues with women traveling alone after dark or into certain areas of the city. Upper class women - a tiny percentage of the population then as now - may have had some restrictions before WWI. In the U.S., though, women have been working, shopping, visiting, attending entertainment, and more on their own since the 19th century in any sizable community.
#17
Old 10-20-2012, 09:07 PM
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Blake, I understand what you're saying, but it still seems to me that "tramp" sounds a little old-fashioned while "slut" is a relatively up-to-date term. The term "tramp stamp" may be common at the moment, but it became common because it rhymes, while "slut stamp" doesn't. I don't know how to prove what I'm saying though, since any search for the meaning of "tramp" that we're talking about will get occurrences of the "hobo" meaning also. It's also possible that the meaning of "tramp" that we're talking about went slowly out of use and reappeared fairly recently.
#18
Old 10-20-2012, 09:41 PM
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It's interesting that the word lost a lot of its derogatory impact when applied to males (thanks mostly to Charlie Chaplin, I think) while it became increasingly more derogatory as a term for women. During the Depession there were rather innocent depictions of homeless girls and women selling paper flowers or apples on the street. It seems odd in the context of the times that the word "tramp" would be applied to loose women for whom there were already an ample supply of labels.
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#19
Old 10-20-2012, 11:01 PM
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I did a ngrams search on tramp, hobo, and bum from 1905 to today. (Hobo has almost no uses in the 19th century.)

I would have thought hobo or bum would be the more common phrase during the Depression but tramp is used more than both put together. Of course, that doesn't differentiate all the meanings of tramp but it's likely that it was a synonym of the other two most of the time. Thesaurus.com notes:
Quote:
a hobo is a migratory worker who likes to travel, a tramp travels without working, and a bum does not travel or work
Tramp makes a sudden jump in 2006, so that's probably when tramp stamp became popular.
#20
Old 10-20-2012, 11:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
I did a ngrams search on tramp, hobo, and bum from 1905 to today. (Hobo has almost no uses in the 19th century.
ngrams is useful but full of pitfalls. It's a late 19th century term.
'

"Hobo" is one of those terms that linguists have been chasing for 50+ years.

We've got it back to 1885 or so.

We've actually got the origin of the term. Probably.

http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi...atches&m=77162

State of the art, so far.
#21
Old 10-21-2012, 12:05 PM
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As so often, sam, we're talking past one another because you're looking for the absolute first use and I'm looking at when the use became popularly used.

An ngrams search from 1870-1905 shows what I mean. Hobo has almost no uses before 1905. Almost no is not the same as none, and that article is surely a fascinating find. From its tone, hobo is so established you may have to go back many years for a first use.

For people not familiar with the Google Books database: don't bother clicking on that 1870-1871 link and expect to find an early use of hobo. Periodicals are dated by the first issue in the run, so the first link takes you to a magazine article from 1896. The second link is in Swahili. And so forth.
#22
Old 10-21-2012, 03:24 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
As so often, sam, we're talking past one another because you're looking for the absolute first use and I'm looking at when the use became popularly used.

An ngrams search from 1870-1905 shows what I mean. Hobo has almost no uses before 1905. Almost no is not the same as none, and that article is surely a fascinating find. From its tone, hobo is so established you may have to go back many years for a first use.

For people not familiar with the Google Books database: don't bother clicking on that 1870-1871 link and expect to find an early use of hobo. Periodicals are dated by the first issue in the run, so the first link takes you to a magazine article from 1896. The second link is in Swahili. And so forth.
You're correct about talking past each other-----we've done this before.

That 1885 cite is almost certainly the first print cite. I seriously doubt we'll ever find one much earlier. Perhaps a year or so.

What queers searches in newspaper databases is that "Hoboken" shows up as hits in searches for "hobo."

But. there are many real uses of the term "hobo" to mean a tramp/bum in newpapers before 1900. I don't think it's as limited as you might suppose.
#23
Old 10-21-2012, 04:17 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
Tramp makes a sudden jump in 2006, so that's probably when tramp stamp became popular.
Before that, "tramp stamps" was a synonym for "food stamps".
#24
Old 10-22-2012, 09:48 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by listedmia View Post
"Tramp" meaning a vagabond is still occasionally used in the US by, well, the tramps themselves. Traditionally, a hobo is someone who rides freight, moves from place to place and works seasonally; a tramp moves around and doesn't work; and a bum is a homeless person who stays in one place. This definition is found in sources like "The Autobiography of Boxcar Bertha", the story of a woman hobo from the early 20th century. There's also "rubbertramps" who own cars, and "leathertramps" who walk around and hitchhike. There's a pretty big travelling subculture which I've been a part of on and off for a few years.
The definition I read was, "A bum sits and loafs; a tramp stands and loafs. But a hobo moves and works."
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