The Grammarphobia Blog

Booty treatment

Q: My trainer has a group exercise class that she refers to as “booty camp.” I assume the class is intended to reduce the habitus of the gluteus, and thus it’s not another way of referring to a “booty call.”

A: The phrase “booty camp” is relatively new and still a work in progress, according to our searches of literary and news databases.

Since showing up in the late 20th century, it’s been used for a variety of things—an all-male sex party, a video of big-bottomed women, a yoga session (yes, yoga booty camp), toilet training for toddlers, and so on.

The use of “booty camp” for an exercise class, especially one that focuses on the hind quarters, showed up in the early years of the 21st century.

In the Jan. 13, 2003, issue of US News & World Report, for example, an article headlined “Booty Camp” reports that the “fitness biz has bold new ways to trim your butt (and build muscles).”

So how did a word originally used to describe plunder taken from an enemy in war find its way into the battle against flabby abs, hips, calves, and butts?

The noun “booty” (meaning plunder, gain, or profit shared by victors) first showed up in the 15th century, according to citations in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The earliest OED example comes from The Game and Playe of Chesse, William Caxton’s 1474 translation of a Latin treatise on morality: “So shold the dispoyll and botye be comune vnto them.”

(In the work, one of the first books printed in English, the chessboard and pieces are used figuratively to represent the king and his subjects.)

By the 16th century, according to the OED citations, the term “booty” was being used loosely to refer to plunder taken by common robbers and thieves as well as warriors.

The word took an unexpected twist in the early 20th century, when it became an African-American slang term for sexual intercourse, a female sex object, or the female genitals. In early examples, it’s spelled “boody.”

Oxford describes the usage as “probably an altered form of botty,” a 19th-century slang term for a baby’s bottom. But the dictionary adds that it might also have been influenced by the plunder sense of “booty.”

The first citation is from Nigger Heaven, a 1926 novel by Carl Van Vechten: “Now … now … that you’ve gone white, do you really want … pinks for boody?” (The ellipses are in the book.)

And here’s an example from a song in Mules and Men, Zora Neale Hurston’s 1935 collection of folklore: “Go to Ella Wall / Oh, go to Ella Wall / If you want good boody / Oh, go to Ella Wall.” (We’ve expanded the OED citation.)

In the 1950s, the term “booty” took on another meaning, “the buttocks,” according to the OED. Here’s an example from Frank London Brown’s 1959 novel, Trumbull Park: “Getting kicked in the booty would be mighty discouraging too.”

The phrase “booty call,” which showed up in the 1990s, refers to “a visit made to a person for the (sole) purpose of having sexual intercourse; an invitation to have sexual intercourse.”

The OED’s earliest citation is from Dazzey Duks, a 1993 album by the rap duo Duice. The title of one cut is “Booty Call.”

The dictionary’s latest example is from the June 2001 issue of Cosmopolitan: “A guy I’d been seeing made a booty call. Afterward, he said, ‘High five!’ and reached out his hand to slap mine.”

Getting back to “booty camp,” the usage was undoubtedly influenced by the use of the phrase “boot camp” for a base where military recruits are trained, a usage that the OED dates to Word War II.

The dictionary’s first citation is from Boot: A Marine in the Making (1944), by Cpl. Gilbert P. Bailey: “Marine inductees are called ‘Boots’ and it is Marine Corps custom to send them all through a grim process called ‘boot camp.’ “

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