H is for Hobo

By: Joshua Glenn
March 26, 2012

A series of 26 posts featuring excerpts from Joshua Glenn’s The Idler’s Glossary (Biblioasis, 2008) and The Wage Slave’s Glossary (Biblioasis, 2011). Both books were coauthored by Mark Kingwell, who contributed entertaining philosophical-critical essays on the subjects of idling and wage slavery; and both were wittily illustrated and designed by the cartoonist Seth.


A 19th-century term that originated in the American West, among train-hopping laborers who preferred it to “tramp.” To the well-off, “hoboing it” meant spending the summer on the road, fancy-free. But during the Depression, some two million men and women hoboed out of dire need, forming a nation with a nation with its own currency, signs and symbols, songs, and folklore. Preston Sturges’ great 1941 film Sullivan’s Travels explores the dark side of hobo culture; more recently, John Hodgman’s satirical almanac, The Areas of My Expertise, popularized its lighter side.


ALSO: Alienation | Big Rock Candy Mountains | Corporation | Dawdle | Employee of the Month | Flazy | Greybearding | Hobo | Inemuri | Jack of All Trades | Knock Off Work | Lazy | Micawberish | Nobbing It | Onboarding | Pink Slip | Quitter | Robot | Stakhanovite | Time and Motion Study | Unemployment | Volupté | Wage Slavery | Xerox Subsidy | Yakuza | Zero Drag


Idleness, Read-outs

What do you think?

  1. Little know fact: Item #413 of “Seven Hundred Hobo Names” in Hodgman’s book is a shout-out to me. I used to buy popcorn from JH when he worked at the Coolidge Corner movie theater, here in Massachusetts; the moniker “Taxachusetts Glenn” is a little inside joke.

  2. Just anote to inform you of Wayne Iverson’s short work,Hobo Sapien Freight Train Hopping Tao and Zen. Lots of railroad history & riding the rods & a unique take on life. I recommend it for your perusal.

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