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Sanity check - use of the word "hobo"


Agreed I should never have sent the message, but when I did I still had no idea that they hadn’t accepted anything I’d written. I didn’t know, and hadn’t guessed, that righteous ire was in the mix, or that I had been redefined as a bigot! Like webs, I thought they had fallen silent, realising their mistake. I wanted some semblance of resolution before next month.

I didn’t even realise the message could be seen as a demand. If they don’t back down, we won’t “be cool”, and that’s that. It doesn’t seem “harsh” to me. An attack like that has consequences, even if the only consequence is a cessation of communication. We’re barely acquaintances, have played games together a couple of times.

It shouldn’t be too hard to avoid them at the next meet - there are usually around 40 people.there.


Yes, I understand you didn’t mean it, but that’s how words on a screen can be misinterpreted. Apologies are negotiations. You give up some ground. They then have the opportunity to voluntarily give up some ground if they wish. By demanding an apology, you’ve given nothing and expected them to give you everything in return. In an argument that was alright heated in their head! Was never going to work.

It’s not necessarily about what you have to apologise for, more about what you wish to achieve. If you’ve offended someone for whatever reason - even if you can’t see any remote reason why - showing some contrition calms the situation down. If they really have attempted to gaslight you, it will be apparent to everyone else what they’ve done and you did your best to keep it reasonable. By questioning and reaffirming your position, in her head it validates her position.

You explained yourself well, but it reaffirmed (and possibly even interpreted as disregarded) the aspect she found offensive. She may have wilfully misinterpreted each step, but the way you responded added fuel to the fire. Notice when she started the argument about the use of language, your first response was to say it was when you were 6 - an entirely different part of the statement to the bit she was complaining about. In her head, that could be a clear strawman to distract from the argument. The way she reasserted her position was blunt and sarcastic, when she could have just said that part wasn’t the issue. You obviously responded more to the vitriolic sarcasm rather than the content. From there it spiralled out.

Again I can see your intentions were true (and probably hers too!), but I can also see the way an angry stranger on the screen could interpret them. I don’t think it’s reasonable to act as offended as she did over an issue that is so obviously contentious, but there were several opportunities for both sides not to take it so personally and quell the argument.


On the one hand, you aren’t wrong. On the other hand, I do think I went out of my way to be civil, and they didn’t deserve it. There’s only so much energy I can devote to salvaging a relationship, and this one is no longer worth it.

If a friend of theirs does me a favour and talks them down, maybe we can be civil again, but I’m going to avoid them in any case.


Yes, I think you were civil throughout. You didn’t resort to personal attacks at all and didn’t rise to the anger. But a few responses were worded in a way that were misinterpreted, and that’s all it takes unfortunately!

The apology bit was really badly worded IMO. If I was her, once I had calmed down I would be clinging to that bit as the justification of you being unreasonable. Everyone’s had that argument where they were the unreasonable one, but the other person said that one thing that means you could unjustly lay the blame with them. ESPECIALLY in PMs for that hint of “you’ll never guess what he said to me when we were alone” scandal.


I disagree with this - they (and let’s try to respect their dislike for “she”, even if we only know about it forth or fifth hand) brought up that they were offended that you had the idea to aspire to be a homeless person,

and it is very obvious that one complaint is given significantly more prominence than the other, and this more prominent complaint was what @Benkyo was responding too when he mentioned that he was six. (It wouldn’t otherwise make sense)

They had got it wrong, they knew they had got it wrong, but instead of acting in good faith, they doubled down on the outrage, and pretended that they hadn’t originally brought up the non-language bit of offence. Very effectively it seems.


This edit is really interesting to me. While I’m having a discussion, everything being public makes sense. But when seeking resolution, I would never ask for a public apology, or conversely a public refusal to apologise that could drag anyone else in. I mean, it’s good to know that there is another angle to it, but I can’t see myself changing my approach to public/private communication to handle this weird wrinkle of miscommunication.


I’ll also point out the elephant in the room:
A Hobo is not a synonym for homeless person, and it certainly wasn’t when @Benkyo was six (sorry, I don’t intend to imply you are OLD :wink:
It is a term that has a goddamn long Wikipedia article with 27 references.
And @brattyjedi has already pointed out from her expertise the specific meaning.
If the term has made a semantic change in the UK to just mean homeless person, they did have a point of sorts. But I actually can’t find much evidence for that online.


Yeah, I think PMs are ideal for resolving things after the fact without it about egos and saving face in public, but PMs can also be used to intimidate in private. It’s a difficult one, all in the framing.


I think the differences definitely eroded over time. I had no idea Hobo, Tramp and Bum referred to three distinct forms of vagrancy. I’ve always seen them as interchangable. I also had no idea hobos were economic migrants taking on odd jobs in the depression. I see Hobo usage as more of a “homeless person in 1980s Hollywood movie” thing or the freight train hoppers.

I’d guess it’s mostly due to American to English cultural translation. We see the cartoon vagrant with a tophat with no top, a dirty suit, and one of those hankerchief bundles on the end of a stick, sleeping on a freight train (often drunk with a red nose and hiccuping bubbles), and translate that into homeless person since that’s the closest analogue in the UK.


I vaguely remember a period in the 90s in North America when hobo was used as a bullying schoolyard name, and was used negatively because of its association with homelessness (however incorrect that usage of the word may be), although that seems to have been a phase and may also have been regional (I was too young to have much good data on this, unfortunately). Depending on where and when this person grew up, it’s possible ze was exposed to this usage.


Yep, it seems in Germany, it being a foreign term, the usage was more clear.
Maybe Ze is still not clear about the concept @benkyo was referring to, and there might still be a way to resolve this misunderstanding?


Hah, I thought so too at one point. Hence the explanation and reference to Jack Kerouac. That didn’t do it, and I think anything further at this point would just be seen as patronising or worse.


I’m not sure I understand where this line of thought comes from.

Part of it is probably related to different media usage/exposure.

Twenty years ago, in Canada, a TV show called The Littlest Hobo would have taught young Benkyo that someone who continues to travel and won’t settle down, is called a Hobo. At least that’s the logical implication of the lyrics of the theme song.

About ten years ago, it had a resurgence of use in the web game Kingdom of Loathing, in the underground Hobopolis City. That may have influenced some of people, since it was oddly popular in places.

Around the same time, the hobo code made an appearance on the TV show madmen apparently.


What line of thought are you referring to, exactly?


The thought that it isn’t a synoym or wasn’t at some point. I didn’t follow how you reached that conclusion, and I think I’d disagree with it, in terms of colloquialisms I’ve heard.

Specifically, in terms of being grouped with vagrants, bums and other “undesirables”, it had a contextual link, if someone was unaware of the orgins.

But that’s not academic.


webs is using “synonym” in the strictest sense: a word or phrase that means exactly or nearly the same as another word or phrase in the same language. I agree with webs that hobo is not a synonym for homeless person, and even if it has effectively become one to people who don’t know what it means, it certainly wasn’t 30 years ago. A “contextual link” doesn’t make it a synonym, unless you use a looser definition of synonym (but then there are much more accurate words than synonym to be using, IMO).


Which then makes perfect sense why it isn’t in use in Britain, it’s a lifestyle that just wouldn’t (isn’t) have been possible in this country.


As I understand the practice, it started as moving between seasonal agricultural labour jobs (which is a gap that the Rom often filled in England) – the hobo was very proud of not being a bum, because while he (almost always he) might well be travelling illicitly and living rough at times he was looking for work, not a handout.


Okay so…in the U.S. the word hobo often has a romantic connotation. A person living off the grid and ‘riding the rails’ but hobos are not synonymous with homeless, alcoholic or mentally erratic individuals, although movies have portrayed them that way. There is actually a whole slew of hobo art that people have made when unable to find work that is in vogue now and this is one instance that I can’t blame people for wanting to buy and preserve this art. It is amazing wood carvings with what the people had at the time and it is considered a true folk art. I don’t find a problem with the term hobo or wishing for a free existence, it’s along the same line as the “Easy Rider” or hippie lifestyle and as a kid from the 80’s I also thought it was a preferable or exciting existence.