|Slang City Mail|
|January 22, 2004|
Slang of the
Week: junglestiff (noun)
The song he is referring to is Hallelujah, I’m a Bum, which he is credited with writing. McClintock traveled extensively through the US while he was working with the IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) at the beginning of the twentieth century. Working conditions were hard then and strikes were common as laborers began to organize for better pay and shorter hours. McClintock met a lot of people who were down on their luck and his songs reflect that.
While bum now refers to an inferior person, it once meant someone who didn’t work regularly, often begged for food and sometimes traveled from place to place. Hoboes were like bums, but they were more strongly associated with travel. The preferred transportation of hoboes was riding the rails (taking a train), and they didn’t buy a ticket, but simply jumped onto slow-moving freight trains.
Between trips, they spent their time in jungles (camps), puffing on coffin nails (cigarettes) and trying not to get rolled (robbed when really drunk) or caught by railway bulls (railway police). While you can still hear rolled on police dramas, most slang associated with hoboes is only found in old songs now. However, these songs are still being heard. McClintock’s other hobo hit, Big Rock Candy Mountain, was recently featured on the soundtrack of the movie O Brother Where Art Thou?
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