English English language Etymology Expression Phrase origin Usage Word origin

Are two hoods better than one?

Q: Does the “hood” in “neighborhood,” “falsehood,” “childhood,” “hoody,” and Little Red Riding Hood come from the same source?

A: No, these words are derived from two distinctly different sources. One gave us the word for a head covering while the other gave us the suffix for a quality of being.

Two “hoods” may not be better than one, but they make for a more interesting post. Let’s begin with the “hood” that one wears.

The clothing sense of “hood” was first recorded sometime before the year 700, the Oxford English Dictionary says, when it appeared in The Epinal Glossary as a Latin translation: “Capitium, hood.”

The ultimate source is a prehistoric Indo-European root that’s been reconstructed as kadh-, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots.

This kadh– meant to shelter or cover, and it’s also the source of the English verb “heed” and the noun “hat,” as well as words for “hat” in other Germanic languages.

The oldest English sense of “hood” is still alive today. Here’s the OED’s earliest definition: “A covering for the head and neck (sometimes extending to the shoulders) of soft or flexible material, either forming part of a larger garment (as the hood of a cowl or cloak) or separate.”

In later years this noun took on many related senses. It came to mean the helmet for a suit of armor (before 1200); various kinds of caps (circa 1430); a leather head cover for a bird used in falconry (c.1575); and finally other kinds of protective coverings or projections, whether on plants and animals (18th to 19th centuries), or on inanimate things like chimneys (1750), baby buggies (1866), and cars (1904 to mean the roof, 1929 for the engine covering).

In reference to automobiles, by the way, Americans now use “hood” for the engine cover, but the British still use “hood” to mean the roof or top of the car. (For the engine covering, since 1902 the British have used another old word for a head-covering, “bonnet.”)

The clothing word “hoody,” sometimes spelled “hoodie,” has been used to mean a hooded garment like a jacket or sweatshirt since 1990, according to OED citations. Oxford says the word is derived from the adjective “hooded.”

A related word for a juvenile delinquent in colloquial British and Irish English is “hoodie,” which the OED dates from 1991, and defines as “a young person who wears a hoodie and is typically regarded as socially disruptive. Hence also: a hooligan, a thug.”

However, two similar-sounding words meaning a violent criminal or troublemaker are entirely unrelated to the garment: “hoodlum” and its slang abbreviation, “hood.” These got their start in the US and later made their way into British English.

The OED says “hoodlum” originated in San Francisco in the early 1870s. The dictionary’s earliest citation is from an article  in a Cincinnati weekly newspaper that refers to rowdies in San Francisco:

“Surely he is far enough away here in this hideous wild of swamp, to escape the bullying of the San Francisco ‘hoodlums’ ” (Cincinnati Commercial, Sept. 6, 1871).

Oxford notes that “hoodlum” began to excite attention in the late 1870s “by which time its origin was lost, and many fictitious stories, concocted to account for it, were current in the newspapers.”

(Prominent slang authorities like H. L. Mencken and Peter Tamony made a case that it comes from a Bavarian dialect of German, where a word spelled hodalum or huddellump means “hoodlum.” Germans were the largest foreign-language group in San Francisco in 1870.)

The “hood” that’s short for “hoodlum” first appeared, according to Oxford, in the December 1930 issue of the American Mercury: “None of those St. Louie hoods are going to cut in here, see?”

Another American slang use of “hood,” this time as a short form of “neighborhood,” was first recorded in the 1960s, according to the OED. The abbreviation sometimes appears with an apostrophe: “the ’hood.”

In Oxford’s words, “the ’hood” (generally used with the article) means “a neighbourhood or community, usually one’s own; esp. an inner-city area inhabited predominantly by non-whites.”

The dictionary’s earliest example, which appears complete with definition, is from the February 1969 issue of an American publication, Trans-action: Social Science and the Community: “He come back over to the hood (neighborhood).”

This slang word from the 20th century brings us to the rest of the words in your question, and to a usage that that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times.

In “neighborhood,” “childhood,” “falsehood,” and many other words, as we’ve said, the suffix “-hood” refers to a state or quality of being.

This suffix, the OED tells us, was –hád in Old English and –hod in Middle English, as well as –hêd in Old Saxon and –heit in Old High German.

But The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots gives an older prehistoric source, (s)kai- (“bright,” “shining”), which in ancient Germanic came to mean “bright appearance,” “quality,” or “condition.”

In English, the OED says, the suffix originally was a separate noun with the general meaning “person,” “personality,” “sex,” “condition,” “quality,” or “rank.”

This noun was “freely combined” with others, Oxford says, as in cild-hád (“child-condition”), mægð-hád (“maiden state”), and pápan hád (“papal dignity”).

Eventually it stopped being a separate noun and became a suffix, spelled “-hood.” Here are some of the more familiar formations, spelled the modern way and in the order of appearance:

“childhood” (around 715);  “widowhood” (c. 897); “priesthood” (900s); “maidenhood” (perhaps late 900s); “manhood” (c. 1225); “falsehood” (c. 1290); neighborhood” (late 1300s); “likelihood” (1398 to mean similarity, c. 1449 for probability); “womanhood” (c. 1405); “boyhood” (possibly 1577, but rare before the 1700s); “girlhood” (1748); “adulthood” (1850).

In modern English, “-hood” is what’s called a “living suffix,” meaning that people are still using it to make new words.

It can be “affixed at will to almost any word denoting a person or concrete thing,” Oxford says, as well as to “many adjectives, to express condition or state.” Consequently, “the number of these derivatives is indefinite.”

Sometimes they’re also humorous, as in this 19th-century OED citation: “Believing in the white Aylesburys … as the final expression of duckhood” (from the Daily News, London, 1883).

A historical aside: The OED notes that “-hood” once had a parallel suffix, “-head,” from the same root (Old English hád) and with the same meaning (condition, rank, person, etc.).

So we once had “childhead,” “falsehead,” “priesthead,” and “widowhead” in addition to the “-hood” versions. The “-head” in most of these old words has been displaced by “-hood,” though we’ve kept “godhead” and lost “godhood.”

We still sometimes see the archaic “maidenhead.” This originally meant the same as “maidenhood” (the condition of being a virgin), and was applied to women and occasionally to men.

But in later centuries, according to the OED, “maidenhead” was also used to mean the hymen, “esp. considered as the mark of a woman’s chastity.”

We don’t hear either “maidenhead” or “maidenhood” much these days, though you can find both in standard dictionaries.

In general, “maidenhead” now refers to either virginity or the hymen, while “maidenhood” refers to either virginity or the state of being unmarried.

[Note: This post was updated on June 14, 2020.]

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