Bum rap

Posted by Bob on March 20, 2005

In Reply to: Bum rap posted by ESC on March 20, 2005

: : : : : My puestion has to do with the origanal usage date and origin. I belive it has to do with the false charges brought against vagrants & the homless to get them off the streets for the night, but I have no proof. can any of you shed light on this subject?

: : : : Here's what it says in the archives:

: : : : Dictionary of American Slang, 1960, has "an instance of being identified, arrested, charged, tried, sentenced, punished, or placed in prison as a lawbreaker" as one meaning of "rap"; origin probably in 1920s. Meanings of "bum" include "false, untrue; inaccurate, unreliable."

: : : This reference lists "bum rap" under "bummer" from the German "Bummler, loafer, from bummeln, to waste time." Bum rap, a false charge, 1927. From I Hear America Talking: An Illustrated History of American Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).

: : I understand the meaning, what I am wondering is when it was first used and weather my therory for origin is correct.

: The references above state that it was first used in the 1920s and Mr. Flexner's entry seems to indicate there is a connection.

Up until the 1950s in America, police would arrest people for "vagrancy," a catch-all charge to clear the streets of all persons with "no visible means of support." Bums, in the vernacular, but also people hanging around streetcorners looking suspicious. This led to many abuses of police power, with arrests based on race or ethnicity, etc. Since they were committing no crime, the enforcement of laws changed, and the homeless were left more of less alone. BUT ... I'm not buying your theory on "bum rap," because the phrase refers to any kind of false arrest/false charge made with little or no evidence, not just the arrest of "bums."