General English

  • noun a person’s bottom
  • noun a person who sits around doing nothing
  • noun a person who is very keen on something


  • noun the bottom, backside, buttocks. From the Middle English period to the end of the 18th century it was possible to use this word in English without offending respectable persons. By the 19th century it was considered rude, perhaps unsurprisingly, in that its suggested origin was in ‘bom’ or ‘boom’, an imitation of the sound of flatulence.
  • noun a tramp, down-and-out, wastrel. This sense of the word is probably unrelated to the previous one. It is a 19th-century shortening of ‘bummer’, meaning an idler or loafer, from the German Bummler, meaning a ‘layabout’ (derived from bummeln, meaning ‘to dangle, hang about’).
  • verb to cadge or scrounge. From the noun form bum meaning a down-and-out or beggar. This use of the word is predominantly British.
  • verb to practise enthusiastically, enjoy. This usage, fashionable among adolescents in 2006 is probably inspired by the earlier sexual senses of the word.

Origin & History of “bum”

there are two distinct words bum in English. By far the older, ‘buttocks’, is first recorded in John de Trevisa’s translation of Ranulph Higden’s Polychronicon 1387: ‘It seemeth that his bum is out that hath that evil (piles)’. It is not clear where it comes from. The other, ‘tramp, loafer’, and its associated verb ‘spend time aimlessly’ (19th c.), chiefly American, probably come from an earlier bummer, derived from the German verb bummeln ‘loaf around, saunter’ (familiar to English speakers from the title of Jerome K Jerome’s novel Three Men on the Bummel 1900, about a jaunt around Germany).