Unsavory type

My neighbor spotted an "unsavory type" going through the condo complex recycling bins to collect all the cans. She also used the term "hobo", which I hadn't heard in decades. She was glad to report she had successfully "run him off the property". This gave me a wonderful mental image of an elderly woman shaking her cane at a tramp fleeing with his bindle on a stick.

First, the lesson to remember--Items placed in recycling bins and dumpsters are not secure just because they are surrounded with disgusting or decomposing material. Private, personal, and financial information, including those endless offers of credit cards, should be shredded. This "unsavory type" did his scavenging in broad daylight and seemed to just be collecting cans to sell.

Second, what is an "unsavory type" or "unsavory character"?--Without getting into the Spitzer scandal, the implications seem to include disagreeable, morally offensive, and suspected of criminal behavior. "Unsavory" can also mean tasteless or insipid.

But, third, what is "savory"?--I thought it was an herb, but it is actually two different Old World herbs called "summer savory" and "winter savory" whose leaves are used as seasoning. My 1976 Joy of Cooking explains:

The leaves of winter savory are used in stews, stuffings and meat loaves. Sauteria montana, a rather resinous perennial evergreen sub-shrub, grows to 18 inches and tolerates lean soil. Summer savory is a much more delicately flavored herb and has many more uses. It is classic in green beans and green bean salad; in horseradish sauce and lentil soup; and even in deviled eggs. It is also used with fat fish, roast pork, potatoes; tomatoes and French dressing. Sauteria hortensis, which grows to 18 inches, needs light, well-composted soil.

I'd never heard of herbs until Simon and Garfunkel sang "Scarborough Fair" in 1966...
Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine

To further complicate the issue, "savories" are a course served in English dinners before the fruit or after the sweet, "to cut the sugar taste before the port is served". Some of them are fishy. The whole situation is getting fishy, if you ask me! Some savories suggested in Joy of Cooking are oysters or chicken livers wrapped in bacon, sardine crepes, tomato tarts, curried seafood tarts, and toasted cheese rolls. I might be inclined to fake a nosebleed during this course, and return just in time for the port!

Fourth, what's the origin of the term "hobo"?--To me, the term conjures a boxcar hopper who uses a secret code to mark the houses of kind women who will offer food.

I grew up still close enough to the Great Depression to know at an early age that running away from home required tying my belongings in a bandana and hanging that bundle on a stick carried over my shoulder. That bundle on a stick is known as a bindle. This meant that if you couldn't tie, you couldn't run away from home. If you couldn't fit what you wanted to take along in a bandana, you couldn't run away from home. If your mom didn't let you play with sticks, you were probably never going to get a breakout opportunity, and you probably still live with your mom. Also, if you wanted to run away from home, you had to smear your cheeks with Crisco and slap on coffee grounds, which is a fairly significant deterrent to riding the rails.

These theories of the origin of the word "hobo" come from Wikipedia:

The origin of the term is not confirmed, though there is a plethora of popular theories. Author Todd DePastino has suggested that it may come from the term hoe-boy meaning "farmhand", or a greeting such as Ho, boy!.[2] Bill Bryson suggests in Made in America that it could either come from the railroad greeting, "Ho, beau!" or a syllabic abbreviation of "homeward bound". Others have said that the term comes from the Manhattan intersection of Houston and Bowery, where itinerant people once used to congregate.

Still another theory of the term's origins is that it derives from the city of
Hoboken, New Jersey, which was a terminus for many railroad lines in the 19th century. The word "hobo" may also be a shortening of the phrase which best describes the early hobo's method of transportation, which was "hopping boxcars", or of the phrase "homeless body" or "homeless bohemian". Additional claims about the word's origin include derivations from the Japanese word houbou 方々, meaning, in reference to travel, "various places", and from the Spanish word jobo, meaning, in the Cuban phrase correr jobos, "truancy". Some Hoboes claim it stands for Helping Our Brothers Out...Hoboes differentiate themselves as travelers who are homeless and willing to do work, whereas a tramp travels but will not work and a bum does neither.

The Online Etymology Dictionary offers fewer choices:

1889, Western Amer.Eng., of unknown origin, perhaps related to early 19c. Eng. dial. hawbuck "lout, clumsy fellow, country bumpkin." Or from ho, boy, a workers' call on late 19c. western U.S. railroads. Hence facetious formation hobohemia "community or life of hobos," 1923 (see bohemian).

Fifth, what about street people, panhandlers, the homeless, vagrants, swagmen, tramps, and bums?--We hear so much about The Homeless. I don't have time to study the various words, but they seem to indicate different reasons for homelessness. The person spotted "on the property" taking cans from our condo recycling bins seems to have a plan for making a bit of cash. Maybe shelters for the homeless could be supported by collections of cans. And, ho, boy, aren't there some seriously curried fishy tarts out there holding high offices?

Just so you don't join me in insomniac mental scrolling searching for the lyrics to that bad Cher song about people taking Bud cans out of the recycling bin:

Gypsies, tramps, and thieves
We'd hear it from the people of the town
They'd call us gypsies, tramps, and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down

© 2008 Nancy L. Ruder

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