Buddies and Bros.

Katherine Connor Martin at OUPblog takes a look at the many offshoots of the word brother; this paragraph gives a brief summary:

The word brother has generated a whole passel of such derivations. The OED now records at least ten distinct words based wholly or in part on regional or colloquial pronunciations of brother: bra (often spelled brah in the United States), bredda, Brer, bro, bruh, bruv, bruvver, bud, buddy, and Buh. Although they share little in common besides their first letter, all of these spellings are in some way attempts to reflect the way brother was pronounced in a particular type of speech. (Bro and buddy have slightly more complex stories, in that the former was used as a straightforward graphical abbreviation before it came to represent a regional pronunciation, and the latter may be influenced by other dialect words and by the suffix –y.) These ten words all have a connection to brother but they have developed in different ways, not all of which overlap with the meanings of the word brother itself.

But it’s the details that make it so much fun, with quotations ranging from “Ah how you do buddy” (1788, Charles Dibdin, Musical Tour) to “Look brah, this game right here’s going to be your breakout game” (2014, Y. Post) and a useful chart. The conclusion:

Although ultimately derived from brother, bro and buddy have by now developed completely independent identities, effacing their original meaning. Their brethren, the other words discussed here, represent many different stages in the life cycle of words. Buh and Brer seem to be calcified in their folklore use, and are relatively rare, even moribund. In contrast, bra, bruv, and bruh are on the rise—they may go on to develop their own unique meanings, to be covered in future updates of the OED.


  1. Siganus Sutor says

    There’s a widespread Indian noun akin to “bro”. It also means means “brother” and it also starts with a b-. It’s the word “bhai”, which is often used in the same way as the words “bro”, “pal”, “mate”, etc.

  2. George Grady says

    Here in the American South, we have the word “bubba”, also derived from brother, but it didn’t make her list. It’s become its own word, too.

  3. I was surprised not to see bubba (and bub) too, though maybe the brother connection isn’t certain enough.

  4. tangent says

    The OSED does describe “bubba” as “Alt. of _brother_” and related to _bub_, _bubby_. Though there it tosses German /Bube/ boy into the soup.

  5. David Marjanović says

    But of course Bub (and Bube, if that survives anywhere) has a long [uː]. And while there is an English word boob, that already means something else…

  6. Now that you mention it, it is odd that she ignored bubba.

  7. David M: Boob also exists as a shortening of booby ‘dull, heavy, stupid fellow, lubber’ (Johnson); ‘clown, nincompoop; crybaby’ (OED). This is thought to be from Spanish bobo, origin unknown. Bube can be ruled out in this connection, despite the semantic similarity: its Low German equivalent is böve.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    Talking of Indian cognates, there is of course also English “pal”, from the Romani phal/phral “brother.”

  9. Siganus Sutor says

    It’s as if we are in the middle of a masonic gathering.

  10. Oh, Hat. You already posted about it in October.

  11. Marja Erwin says

    So buddy is unrelated to (leaf)bud?

  12. Oh, Hat. You already posted about it in October.

    Oh, man. I’m used to repeating myself after a few years, but that’s pretty bad. I think I know how it happened: I deleted the tab after I posted it, but then restored my tabs from an earlier backup and didn’t notice this one. Sigh. Oh well, it’s a good piece, and this gives it another chance to get seen…

  13. David Marjanović says

    booby ‘dull, heavy, stupid fellow, lubber’

    I know! This one is suspiciously similar enough to the vowelless Czech word blb of about the same meaning that there’s got to be some sound symbolism there.

  14. To me, “boob” seems a pretty ordinary mild insult. On the other hand, that sense of “booby” is solely associated with the trolls from The Hobbit.

    I had a four-record set of an abridged Hobbit being read by Nicol Williamson (Merlin himself!) when I was a kid. It turns out it’s available on archive.org. Tom and William calling each other “booby” can be heard here at 11:08.

  15. Oh, man.

    ITYM “Oh, brother.”

  16. Oh brain, where art thou?

  17. Another American term that was left out is brotha/brutha.

  18. and Bube, if that survives anywhere
    In the meaning “boy” or “scoundrel”, it’s highly literary, but it is alive as the name of a playing card (“knave / jack” in English). Apocoped Bub is not part of my active vocabulary, it sounds vaguely Southern to me.

  19. David Marjanović says

    it sounds vaguely Southern to me.

    It is! It’s the only word for “boy” in halfway colloquial use in Austria; Knabe is highly literary or highly bureaucratic (interestingly), Junge belongs to northern Germany. (Bursch starts at a later age and is mainly Viennese.)

  20. Yes, Knabe is literary for me as well – I don’t even know whether it’s in colloquial use anywhere. As a Northerner, the normal word for me is Junge. For me, Bursche (starting at a later age for me as well) is also a bit literary / old-fashioned, except when talking about members of student fraternities (Burschenschaften), which I rarely do.

  21. David Marjanović says

    which I rarely do

    The less said about them, the better! 🙂

  22. And as a result of this conversation I have learned that there is a Bund Chilenischer Burschenschaften.

  23. And while we are (not) at it, passel (in the first sentence of the quotation) is a doublet of parcel, from the early loss of /r/ before /s/ that gives us bust < burst, cuss < curse, ass < arse, palsy < paralysis and in reverse parsnip < ME pasnepe (cf. neap).

    I don’t say passel of, though, I say raft of.

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