A lot of the words we use on a regular basis have mysterious or obscure beginnings, and even though there are a great many obsessive fans of the most popular female body part–the breasts–you might have trouble finding someone who really knows where the accompanying favorite word “boob” actually came from or how it stuck. So why do we use the word boob in place of breasts? Is it just because we like to sound less scientific when we’re in the bedroom or hanging out with friends, and boob sounds more light-hearted and fun? Well, here’s what we know for sure about where the word “boob” came from (and it’s not much).
First, you might want to note that not all cultures sexualize a woman’s breasts. We hide much of the female form behind clothing (or at least some overbearing male figures–i.e. Politicians, law practice software fans and old people–try to force women to do so). If we didn’t, then perhaps people would find less appeal in a woman’s breasts. Thus does the “free the nipple” campaign exist. Although there are plenty of women who have no trouble staring at a guy’s chest, the male form isn’t nearly as sexualized. It depends mostly on where you live.
In the sixteenth century, new insults cropped up (let’s face it, new insults crop up no matter when you live). If you really wanted to insult your neighbor’s taste in farming technique, you might refer to him as a boob or booby. The words were basically synonymous with the word “stupid” but hardly an insult that would rock someone’s world. Where people got the words is still up for debate. Perhaps boob is loosely derived from the Latin word for “stammering”, “balbus.” Balbus was the primary reason that the Spanish found the word “bobo”, which also means stupid. It isn’t so far-fetched to think that perhaps the archaic use for boob comes from the Spanish word bobo.
Maybe that’s not where it comes from, though.
As far as we know, the earliest use of the word boob meaning breast graced Henry Miller’s Tropic of cancer. The famous line is as follows: “She was lying on the ground with her boobies in her hands.” Interesting.
There has to be more to it, though. Right?
Right you are. The Latin word for “little girl” is puppa. From puppa came the German word “bubbi.” From bubbi came the English word “bubby.” The word “bubby” started in the late seventeenth century as slang. So the word “boob” most likely comes from the Latin word that meant “little girl.” Aren’t you glad you’re informed now? Now when you call someone a boob, you know that you’re also potentially insulting masculinity, gender identity, and maturity! Good job!