Monday, August 22, 2016
“And she’s broad where a broad should be broad,” sing the love-starved sailors in “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. As everyone knows, broad is a rather inelegant American slang term for a woman.
An acquaintance of mine recently opined that the origin of the term was a shortened reference to “Broadway show girls.” As appealing as this etymology is, experts don’t agree. Experts don’t really agree on anything at all about the origin of the term, but here’s what I found:
In its first known usage in the early 20th century, the word was used to refer to a prostitute. The 1914 work A Vocabulary of Criminal Slang by Jackson and Hellyer defines broad as: “Noun, current amongst genteel grafters chiefly. A female confederate; a female companion, a woman of loose morals.” But the term quickly came to mean any woman, with no pejorative connotation. In fact, this sense can be found as early as 1911, in the September issue of Hampton’s Magazine: “Pretty soon what is technically known as a ‘broad’—‘broad’ being the latest New Yorkese—hove into sight.”
Some possible explanations of its origin are:
1) It is a reference to a woman’s broad hips.
2) It stems from the transference of “broad,” meaning a “ticket” to refer to a pimp’s “meal ticket,” i.e. a prostitute.
3) It comes from the term “abroadwife,” which meant a woman living away from her husband in the 19th century
4) The word “broad” in the 18th century meant a wide playing card, especially one used in three-card monte, in which the goal is to pick the queen from three moving cards. So the queen became known as a “broad.”
In its original meaning, referring to something of great breadth, broad derives from Middle English brood, Old English brad, and Old High German breit, all meaning “wide.”
The Broad of Buffalo Bayou,who is the Bard’s consort, finds the term broad to be demeaning to women, whom she prefers to call “dames.”
There once was a fellow named Claude
Who referred to his girl as a broad.
But Claude was rhotacistic,
And the girl went ballistic
When he mistakenly called her a bawd.