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First attested in a December 1866[1] Daily Alta California article, which mentions "the 'Hoodlum Gang' of juvenile thieves".[2] Several possible origins have been proposed. It may derive from a Germanic word like Swabian hudelum (disorderly)[1][3] or Bavarian Haderlump (ragamuffin).[4]

Herbert Asbury's book The Barbary Coast: An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld (1933, A. A. Knopf, New York) says the word originated in San Francisco from a particular street gang's call to unemployed Irishmen to "huddle 'em" (to beat up Chinese migrants), after which San Francisco newspapers took to calling street gangs "hoodlums".


  • IPA(key): /ˈhuːdləm/, /ˈhʊdləm/
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: hood‧lum


hoodlum (plural hoodlums)

  1. A gangster; a hired thug.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:criminal
    • 2021 February 9, Christina Newland, “Is Tom Hanks part of a dying breed of genuine movie stars?”, in BBC[1]:
      In Sam Mendes's excellent gangster movie Road to Perdition (2002), he tested the boundaries further playing a hitman – but while we know he's a killer, we never really see him go full-pelt hoodlum.
  2. A rough or violent youth.
    Synonyms: see Thesaurus:troublemaker

Usage notes[edit]

  • A short form, "hood," also exists.
  • A nonstandard, jocular plural hoodla (treating the word like a Latin noun) also exists.
  • The behavior of a hoodlum may be referred to as "hoodlumism."



  1. 1.0 1.1 hoodlum”, in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
  2. ^ Daily Alta California, December 15, 1866: "a dealerf in second-hand clothing [...] was arrested, yesterday [...] on the charges of receiving stolen goods from the "Hoodlum Gang" of juvenile thieves"
  3. ^ hoodlum”, in Dictionary.com Unabridged, Dictionary.com, LLC, 1995–present.
  4. ^ Douglas Harper (2001–2022), “hoodlum”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.

Further reading[edit]

  • “Frederick Bee History Project”, in (please provide the title of the work)[2], accessed October 4, 2014