Here is a pointless question: What is the origin of the colloquial term "bum" meaning a homeless person?

Just out of curiosity, I was wondering about the history of the term "bum" meaning a homeless person, not the UK version referring to someone's posterior.

Bonus: If you know the background on "Hobo" that would be interesting too, and does it have any relation to the town Hoboken, New Jersey?

Then the pointless answer, where someone copies out bits of the dictionary. Then the following revealing comment:

If you include the relevant part of the wikipedia article (or a short summary) for completeness I'll mark this as the accepted answer. – JohnFx 3 hours ago

So the purpose of this site is to summarize Wikipedia articles? There are lots more questions like this, unfortunately.

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    I have also noted that there seem to be a lot a questions that could be answered simply by referring to a dictionary or perhaps Wikipedia. I enjoy those for which the etymology is uncertain, but it would be a courtesy for the asker to at least check a dictionary or Wikipedia first, before posting.
    – user597
    Commented Aug 23, 2010 at 22:38
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    It's not a courtesy to our future visitors who have the same question and could have it answered for them in an easy-to-use Q&A format.
    – nohat Mod
    Commented Aug 24, 2010 at 18:31
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    So we are here to copy out Wikipedia articles for other people's benefit?
    – delete
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 1:18
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    @mickeyf - I wholeheartedly agree for a programming site like StackOverflow, but for a site like this where most of the answers are likely to be covered in some reference book I have to disagree. If we admonish everyone and tell them to go look it up elsewhere, what is the point of this site?
    – JohnFx
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 15:16
  • 1
    Related: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/144/…
    – b.roth
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 16:31
  • @JohnFx - I confess I'm conflicted about this. The Advertising Brochure on Area51 said "(serious) English language enthusiasts", which to me suggested a person who owned a copy of Strunk and White. I'm only here because I find language fascinating and enjoyable. I'm not sure where the line is drawn. Perhaps anything that justifies a bit of discussion rather than a single concise answer is fair game?
    – user597
    Commented Sep 10, 2010 at 5:03

3 Answers 3


The idea behind any StackExchange site is to build the ultimate resource on a given topic. Just like StackOverflow, with which it all began, we eventually want to cover all questions that are on-topic, even those already answered elsewhere. Just because an answer to a question is right there shouting at you from the first Google result, doesn't mean we don't welcome that question on our site. In fact, quite the opposite: we want to be that first Google result. This has been stated by Jeff and Joel a zillion times, and there are tons of related reading on the meta Meta, e.g.:

That being said, I do agree with Shinto Sherlock that that particular comment by JohnFx speaks volumes. I don't like it at all. However, I have to ask myself: what if that comment wasn't there? Would that question belong on our site? And the answer is a definite "yes". I won't upvote that question, but I won't vote to close it, either.

Look, I am pretty confident that nohat knew perfectly well what the difference between "lay" and "lie" is and what "akin to" means before he asked those questions, and he certainly knows how to google. But none of that renders his questions "pointless" in the slightest.

Now, if some user just started posting "what is the etymology of 'cab'", "what is the etymology of 'cabalist'", "what is the etymology of 'cabaret'" and so forth, that would be pretty blatant rep whoring — and I'm not sure how we would go about handling it —, but thankfully I don't see that happening just yet. Most importantly, though, if this site will survive long enough, and if it is to survive for long, we will end up having all of these questions anyway.

StackOverflow is now full of questions such as "what is the difference between = and ==", which make many people cry in pain, but nobody argues that they are off-topic. Similarly, one day we will have to answer the question "What is the origin of the word 'origin'?", and many people will cry in pain, but no amount of crying will make the question pointless.

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    I will also note that nobody has posted the correct answer to my akin question yet. I guess I will have to answer my own question. ;-)
    – nohat Mod
    Commented Aug 25, 2010 at 15:39
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    @nohat: I am looking forward to it, somewhat anxiously. (O_O)
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Aug 26, 2010 at 0:54
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    "The idea behind any StackExchange site is to build the ultimate resource on a given topic." - what a joke, you think this site is going to be a more important reference than the Oxford English Dictionary? Wishful thinking.
    – delete
    Commented Sep 2, 2010 at 10:53
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    @Shinto: in a way, it already is, from day one. OED is just one resource, no matter how great. There are many resources out there, and there are many issues on which resource X implicitly disagrees with resource Y, but doesn't explicitly state that it does, let alone why. On this site, you can get comprehensive answers that compile information from various resources and address the differences between them. That's one of the key ideas behind every SE and every Wikimedia site. I did my bit in building a few Wikipedias and Wiktionaries from scratch, and so far those efforts weren't futile.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Sep 2, 2010 at 14:57
  • @RegDwigнt, Regarding "I'm not sure how we would go about handling it", so it has been 5 years since then, what's the protocol now? Concluding with "thankfully I don't see that happening just yet" is wanting; even if it hasn't happened (yet), it's confusing to new users how the site is supposed to work when there isn't a proper established protocol.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 10:08
  • @RegDwigнt, I'm going to link to the related question on philosophy.SE. It's also an unresolved question there.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 11:38

If only there were some sort of mechanism where the community could express their approval/disapproval of questions and ultimately remove or deprecate anything that is off-topic, inappropriate, or in general just not welcome....

I suppose for now we are just stuck with complaining about them in meta.

BTW: I added him to quote the cite, just so it was in the body of the answer and handy, not to mention helping the search ranking of the question for others who might be Googling the answer to the same question.


My only thought on this is that it makes for lots of boring questions.

I'm only a very occasional participator here, partly because some days when I've dropped by, all of the questions have been LMGTFY types.

But maybe that's just me.

  • 1
    If you have a question you'd like to ask, feel free.
    – delete
    Commented Sep 2, 2010 at 7:35
  • This has also been my experience.
    – Marcin
    Commented Jul 10, 2011 at 7:20
  • @Benjol, On the other hand, Wikipedia is both very boring and very useful. Can you imagine if Wikipedia pages started saying lmgtfy?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Feb 16, 2016 at 10:19

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