Wood on Words: Columnist Barry Wood's take on hoods and whatnot.


Barry Wood
The "hood" in hoodie, a very popular garment that was called a hooded sweat shirt when I was young, traces back to the Old English "hod," which Webster's says was akin to the German "hut" for "hat."

So what does that have to do, I was asked recently, with the "hood" that's slang for "neighborhood"? Nothing, except many people in some hoods wear hoodies.

The combining form "-hood" comes from the Old English "had" for "order, condition, quality, rank." In the sense of "state, quality, condition," we have words like "adulthood" and "childhood." In the sense of "the whole group of (a specified class, profession, etc.)," we have "neighborhood," "priesthood," "knighthood" and the like.

In the same neighborhood in the dictionary are two other "hood" words: "hoodwink" and "hoodlum."

The former is related to the head covering. It originally meant "to blindfold," sometimes done more elaborately with a hood. That use is now considered archaic. These days, "to hoodwink" is "to mislead or confuse by trickery; dupe."

The "wink" portion, by the way, comes from an Indo-European base that meant "to be curved, bowed," which is how the eyelids appear during a wink. This is also where "winch" comes from, apparently from the shape of the part of the cranking mechanism on which a rope or cable is wrapped. That's quite a stretch, which is probably what happens to the rope, too.

The other "hood" word is "hoodlum," defined as "a wild, lawless person, often a member of a gang." "Hoodlum" often is shortened to "hood," which means it's possible to have hoods in hoods in hoods -- which is too often the case.

However, "hoodlum" has a different origin, most likely from the German dialetical term "hudilump," which meant "wretch" or "miserable fellow."

"Hoodlum" has acquired a second unsavory definition, "a tough-looking young ruffian."

I can't hear the word "ruffian" without thinking of a line in a "George of the Jungle" cartoon (oh, the things we remember -- and forget!), in which George asks a couple of villains, "You guys really from Ruffia?"

Of course, there is no Ruffia, but there is a "ruffiano," which is Italian for "a pander," a person whose activities are probably best left undiscussed in a family newspaper. Suffice it to say that the word comes from the dialetical Italian for "filth," which in turn comes from the Germanic for "scurf."

Now there's a word you don't see very often, but you probably see what it means every day. It's those little flakes of dry skin commonly called dandruff. It makes me wonder why some shampoo hasn't designed an ad campaign using the phrase "Scurf's up!"

So "scurf" is loose skin on the top of the head, while "scruff" is the loose skin at the back of the neck of some animals. It's also synonymous with "nape," the back of the neck of humans.

To cover your scruff and your scurf, you could wear a hoodie, which brings me back to where I started.

Barry Wood is a senior copy editor for the Register Star. Contact him at bwood@rrstar.com or write to Wood on Words, Rockford Register Star, 99 E. State St., Rockford, IL 61104.