Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Why We Say #20–highbrows to hobos and hoodlums

As promised from last month we are delving into the somewhat unsavory sayings dealing with lowlife, or at least perceived lowlife. However, before traipsing across those tracks (and there are so many railroad tracks where I live, that nobody knows which side is which), let’s look at those high brows.

High Brows:

“No worries, I got your Bach, Delores.” image:

“I don’t know, Delores, I would rather attend the Bieber concert. Bach is rather high brow for my taste.”

If only Delores could convince her nephew that high brow is so yesterday. Yes, scientists have determined that the idea of having a high forehead–I believe Sherlock has one, is not an indication of superior or even uppity tastes. No matter your forehead shape, you can have your Bach and beat it too.

Higher than a Kite:
“Did you hear about Frank? Oh, man–he was higher than a kite. It was hilarious watching him trying to navigate down the hall after he ate two pieces of Aunt Stephanie’s rum cake.”

“Rum, anyone?” image:

Wellindeed. Maybe Auntie Steph is a bit heavy handed on her rum, then again Frank would not want to be higher than a kite. No, that’s not the Mary Poppins stick and paper toy, nor is it the bird. It’s a shortening of the original phrase, “higher than Gilderoy’s kite.” Gilderoy, actually Patrick MacGregor, an infamous highwayman, known for deeds such as hanging a judge, picking Cardinal Richelieu’s pocket, and robbing Cromwell, met his end at the gallows. The height of the gallows indicated the height of crimes. Gilderoy swung fairly high, and the Gaelic word “kite” means “body” so, the expression “higher than Gilderoy’s body has nothing to do with Aunt Stephanie’s cake.

I remember dressing up as a hobo for Halloween one year. It’s a cute photo. I’d share it with you if I could get my album off the shelf without braining myself in the head. Cleaning the hall closet is not on my BIG list (that’s right, Allegra–visting my messy closet does not even rate a mention on my list). So, talking about hobos has all kinds of connotations. I remember a William Powell movie My Man Godfrey that did a very nice spin on the hobo theme. Then again Mr. Powell probably didn’t know that “hoc boys” were the originals and they were actually hard workers who traveled from plantation to plantation working the cotton fields. They traveled around trying to find work and eventually their name was shortened to “hobos.”  Those hoc boys would be no doubt bummed to be considered lazy-good-for nothings.


We’ve seen them in those noir films, those types who hang around the docks and buildings, just exuding trouble in the making. “Hoodlums” they may be, but actually they are “Muldoons” because that is where hoodlums gets its name. Apparently a West Coast reporter, whether to protect himself, it’s not known, wrote about a “Hoodlum” which turned out to be a backward spelling of sorts of a character named Muldoon, a gangster at that time. Perhaps a bad guy is a bad guy no matter how his name is spelled.

“Wait, a cotton-picking minute–we aren’t looking for work. We’re waiting for the bus. And there is no Muldoons amongst us.” image:

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9 thoughts on “Why We Say #20–highbrows to hobos and hoodlums

  1. Fiiiine. Keep you closets as messy as you must.

    Besides, I am too busy trying to get my lovely wife to clean out her own. How on earth does that woman expect me to put away her laundry where there is no ding dang room to hang it?

    As for “hobo,” isn’t there a hierarchy of terms for the homeless of the Depression era? Hobos were willing to work, say, but “tramps” were not? And bums were petty criminals? (I probably have the terms wrong, but does that ring a bell?)

  2. I love the “high as a kite” one – so interesting. I really do love this post that you do. I always learn so much!

  3. I love getting my edg-a-medication here. And perhaps the reporter was higher than a kite as he was typing out “Muldoon.” This theory is based on what I know about newspaper reporters of the time. (You’ll have to ask Mike about those nefarious critters) The kind that filed their stories from atop a bar stool….. 😀

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