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Q: origin of phrase "boo boo" ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   4 Comments )
Subject: origin of phrase "boo boo"
Category: Reference, Education and News > General Reference
Asked by: hhannah-ga
List Price: $5.00
Posted: 28 Jun 2005 21:21 PDT
Expires: 28 Jul 2005 21:21 PDT
Question ID: 538185
I'd like to know the origin of the phrase "boo boo," as in minor wound or mishap.
Subject: Re: origin of phrase "boo boo"
Answered By: journalist-ga on 29 Jun 2005 07:29 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Greetings Hhannah,

The Online Etymology Dictionary offers this about the term:

"mistake," 1954, apparently a reduplication of boob, which had
acquired a secondary sense of "foolish mistake" (1934).

However, my copy of American Slang by Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D., offers
an earlier date:
"1. n. fr. early 1900s  A dollar
2. n. Any error or misstep, esp. one with embarrassing consequences; faux pas."
[The dollar reference may stem from bourgeois-bohème - see below)

Another reference to a French origin comes from
"Bobo - Mot du Jour - French Word of the Day
un bobo (informal, baby language) - boo boo, owie, wound
Maman, j'ai un bobo ! - Mama, I have a boo boo.
Bobo is also an abbreviation for "un bourgeois-bohème," [shortened:
"bo bo" - meaning is middle-class man Bohemian] but this term is
becoming obsolete."

Translating "bobo" at babelfish, the French definition returned was "sore." and please read the etymology of the
French "bobo" at as you may find
it interesting.

I also located a mention online from Cassell?s Dictionary of Slang:
"BOO [1990s] (U.S. Black): a sweetheart, a loved one [? from BABY, a
term of affection or general address (between men and women and men
and men) originating among Blacks in the 1960s and still in use]"

Regarding the Black connection, I found a reference among the results
referencing an article "Unacknowledged African Origins of U.S. English
Usage: 'Origin Unknown' and Other Peculiar Etymologies" by Fern L.
Johnson at,2,4;journal,12,30;linkingpublicationresults,1:101828,1
but the article is in a subscriiption database and I wasn't able to
view it or the booboo relation.  This article synopsis also referenced
to Bantu Language Influence.

Another interesting reference points to possible Puerto Rican origins:
"In their monumental collection of Puerto Rican folklore, Mason and
Espinosa printed several versions of the same tale. Juan Booboo, a
popular character in Puerto Rican tales, can be traced to the Spanish
picaresque tales of ?Pedro de Urdemales?. In another Spanish colony,
the Philippines, there is another Juan, who is just as silly and dumb
as Juan Booboo and many of their tales are exactly the same or very
similar to the Puerto Rican versions. In the Philippines, however, the
tales are traced to Indonesia, India, and Ceylon. Could it be possible
that the Juan Booboo tales have come around full circle and reached
their point of origin?"

The "silly and dumb" reference to this character named Booboo could
indicate another origin of the slang booboo.  The article gives an
"early 20th century" reference and states "Professor Aurelio M.
Espinosa spent seven months in Spain (June 1920-January 1921)
researching the roots of the tales told in Spanish America."

So, the term appears to harken back to --at least-- the early 1900s. 
Thank you for the opportunity to research this interesting question -
I love etymology, and I hope the info I've provided is helpful to you.
 Should any links not function properly, please request a
clarification before rating my answer as I'll be happy to respond.

Best regards,


booboo etymology OR origin
"boo boo" etymology
"boo boo" origin phrase OR term
"boo boo" etymology OR origin OR first use
bobo etymology OR origin
hhannah-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Very complete, researcher clearly did not stop at first 'answer.' Thanks!

Subject: Re: origin of phrase "boo boo"
From: journalist-ga on 11 Jul 2005 08:28 PDT
Thank you for your kind words!  I'm delighted you are pleased with my research. :)

Best regards,
Subject: Re: origin of phrase "boo boo"
From: jerusalembunny-ga on 15 Sep 2005 14:25 PDT
I came to this site to see if there was a reference to bubonic plague
as the first sign of infection is a painful, hot and swollen lymph
node known as a bubo.  Think it fits in?
Subject: Re: origin of phrase "boo boo"
From: dchartist-ga on 10 Jan 2006 11:34 PST
I liked the connection to the possible Puerto Rican folklore of Juan
Bobo, but it is Bobo not BooBoo.  My mother told me many a Juan Bobo
story when I was a child, they're were always amusing in that Juan
Bobo was so incredibly dumb.  So whenever someone does or says
something stupid, we call them Bobo (masc) or Boba (fem).  It is still
very common today.
Subject: Re: origin of phrase "boo boo"
From: shenehon-ga on 22 Jan 2006 14:04 PST
As with other references to the plague that we still encounter (eg.
"ashes, ashes, we all fall down"), I also came to this site thinking
that "boo boo" is derived from the term "bubo", which were visible on
people who had contracted the plague. It seems like a pretty good

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