General English


  • noun heroin. Although this coded use of the standard word became common in the 1990s, it originated in US street slang of the 1920s. Its ultimate derivation is obscure, but may possibly evoke the image of a boy as an ever-present servant or a term of address for a slave.

Origin & History of “boy”

The etymology of boy has long been problematical, but the now most generally accepted view is that it is probably a reduced form of an unrecorded Anglo-Norman *abuie or *embuie ‘fettered’, from the Old French verb embuier ‘fetter’. This came from vulgar Latin *imboiāre, a compound verb based on Latin boiae ‘leather collar, fetter’, which was adapted from Greek boeiai doraí ‘ox-hides’ (hence ‘ox-leather thongs’), from bous ‘ox’ (related to English bovine and cow). The apparently implausible semantic connection is elucidated by the early meaning of boy in English, which was ‘male servant’; according to this view, a boy was etymologically someone kept in leather fetters, and hence a ‘slave’ or ‘servant’. The current main sense, ‘young male’, developed in the 14th century.