The question came up: If referring to a person as a word for a female body part in an insulting manner is sexist, then isn’t calling a man a “boob” sexist?
(I may or may not have referred to some guy as a boob.)
My first reaction was to simply say, “No, because a boob, in this sense has nothing to do with female body parts. It is a dunce, idiot, stupid or bumbling person, etc.” However, often, when we make assumptions about the origin of a word we are wrong. And since part of that conversation was about whether using the word “hysterical” was sexist, even if one did not know the origin of the term, I thought I’d better look it (boob) up. So I did. Turns out, I was right. “Boob” is just what I say above. So now you know.
But in the process of looking it up I came across another tidbit which is much more obscure, probably wrong, and won’t be of much interest to most people but it was of interest to me so I’ll mention it. It is probably true (as I had assumed) that “boob” comes from “booby”, and here’s the description from Dictionary.com of the origin of “booby”:
1590â€“1600; earlier pooby, apparently blend of poop to befool (now obsolete) and baby; ( def. 2 ) perhaps by association with Spanish bobo < Latin balbus stuttering.
And what is interesting about this is that even though the Spanish “bobo” may derive from the Latin “balbus” it is also true that in parts of Central Africa, the word “bobo” means someone who does not speak at all, does not speak properly, speaks foolishly, or who does not speak the prevailing languages. There are, of course, Portuguese words spoken in the same region because of the Portuguese influence on KiSwahili which then became an overarching trade language and, in turn, influenced other languages. So the language from which I know “bobo” is KiNande, but it could also be KiNguana, a western dialect of KiSwahili
The on line Living KiSwahili Dictionary has “bobo” as referring to two distinct nuts. I can verify the use of “bobo” to refer to one of these nuts on Google Translator. I’m not much impressed by that because once you get outside of Tanzania, animal and plant names in KiSwahili are probably often local non-KiSwahili names absorbed by the language. (The KiNande dictionary does not list the word at all.)
Finally, I looked “bobo” up in Portuguese … in that language, “bobo” means fool. Perfect. The term is shared by Spanish and Portuguese, and apparently, at least one obscure Central African language which has other Portuguese words in it from colonial times.
So, when someone calls you a boob, they are expressing a sentiment that has been expressed around the world in many languages, although not necessarily about you in particular. The origin of the word is probably still Latin, spread via Portuguese colonization in East Africa into that region where perhaps it resides here and there atop the other local languages, but not necessarily in KiSwahili or any of its many variants. We need to send linguists to check KiNande (aka Konzu) for more Portuguese.
Meanwhile, is there any chance at all that “boob” as in “fool” comes from “boob” as in “breast”? I think not, but in case you are still giving that any consideration let me remind you of an important linguistic rule. Everything is a word for female breasts; at one time or another, any given word may or may not be used as slang to refer to breasts. I’m not sure why that is the case, but it seems to be.