Hoboglyps – Their Meaning and History

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/ published 2 years ago

Hoboglyps – Their Meaning and History

There is no data or document that says why these people were called hobos. They developed less than a sterling reputation, and they were often non-welcomed

Hobos have played a big part of America history, and their influence is often ignored and underestimated. Hobos were nomadic workers who roamed the country. Nowadays, we have digital nomads, and without the hobos, one might say there might not be digital nomads. Nowadays, the life of a digital nomad is almost something we crave for, an elusive dream of being able to travel the world, and work your way doing it.

Back in the 1800s, hobo lifestyle became a lifestyle in America. And their lifestyle was closely related to the industrial revolution, the invention of the railway and more. Sometime in the mid to late 1800s, men who had difficulty finding jobs in their own city, took to the rails. These migratory workers hopped onto trains, riding for free (but illegally), in fright cars, and bounced around the country looking for work.

There is no data or document that says why these people were called hobos. They developed less than a sterling reputation, and they were often non-welcomed.

In order to survive, they had to adjust, and one thing they did was develop their own language, or hoboglyphs as they are known today.

History of the term Hobo

The world hobo nowadays is used for “bum” or “drifter”. However, back then, hobos were specific type of homes travelers. They traveled around for the sole purpose of finding work in every new town. They were forced away from their home by the lack of jobs there. Bums, on the other hand, avoided work in favor of drinking, while tramps worked only when absolutely necessary.

Hobos had a strict moral code, and they were willing to take jobs that no one else wanted. Because of that, they were tolerated by some employers. However, their life was difficult and dangerous. So, in order to survive, they had to develop their own secret language. And when you see the signs and meaning, you will understand better why they had to develop such language.


Their hobo code is a fascinating system of symbols understood only by the hobo community back then. Nowadays, we know the meaning of their symbols. But back then, they were not typically welcomed. So, they had to leave messages for others in the community.

Their code features elements like circles, arrows, and more that made up the directional symbols. Hash marks usually meant danger, but many of the signs were cryptic and nearly impossible to understand outside of the hobo community. One example is the sign for a courthouse nearby. The sign was a curly line inside a circle.

The Hobo Language

The symbols left by the hobo community were usually found scrawled in coal or chalk. They placed them near rail yards, and other places where hobos moved and occupied. The purpose was simple, help other hobos, and make the lifestyle possible.

For example, hobos used signs to warn each other when authorities were cracking down on vagrants or when a town has had its fill of beggars. These signs meant to law low.


Hobos had to make things possible with whatever they had by hand. Sometimes, they scrawled the language with a nail, sharp-edged rock, or a lump of coal. They used whatever writing implements were available.

Sometimes, these symbols were instructions about directions, for example, where it is a good spot to catch a train, and sometimes, they were details about the town or homeowners.


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