The Hobson Act.

Over at, cuchuflete has discovered a briefly popular slang phrase of unknown origin:

Googling the phrase, “do the Hobson act” yields a small batch of quotations suggesting that it means kissing […]

Indianapolis Sun Newspaper Archives, Sep 29, 1899, p. 1

Thursday puckered up her lips to do the Hobson act to Dewey As she Shook his hand. Dewey s Flag officer pushed her away and the Admiral was saved

“I won’t be embraced, I won’t, I won’t,” cried the old sailor, frantically. “Come, Captain, do the Hobson act,” said Walter, “the ladies expect it.” …

Page 6 — Indianapolis News 1 September 1899 – Hoosier State Chronicles

A young man in a Wabash paper mill tried to do the Hobson act with one of the ycung women employes, and she attacked him with a saw […]

I wrote:

Very interesting! Here’s another, from the Crawfordsville [Indiana] Journal, September 22, 1899, p. 5:

Did you see the kissing bug at the church Sunday evening? The young man in question didn’t wait for a better opportunity, but did the Hobson act right there in the church.

And from Town Talk [San Francisco], July 3, 1899, p. 10:

As the bride and bridegroom appeared at the door the old familiar wedding march was played and then it was decided that all the men present should kiss the bride and that the ladies should do the Hobson act with Mr. Bride.

It seems to have flared up in the summer of 1899 and immediately died out without leaving a clue as to its origin!

Perhaps someone can come up with more information? (If you’re wondering, the OED advanced search says “No results found for ‘Hobson act’.”)


  1. I have a deadline and shouldn’t even be reading blogs, but I do see a Richmond Pearson Hobson who became the “most kissed man in America” in 1898…?

  2. That’s got to be the source — well done!

  3. I learn that Hobson-Jobson is a folk-etymological alteration of the Islamic Indian expression Hasan! Husayn! evoking the grandsons of the prophet. Reding about the grandsons I learn that Hasan had some reputation (probably ill-deserved) as a womanizer/serial divorcer. I very much doubt that’s the origin, but it would have been fun.

    Rather, this is about the great celebrity of the Spanish-American war, Richmond B. Hobson (1870-1937). From Wikipedia:

    Crowds greeted his train at many stations, and his enthusiasm for kissing admiring young women made him a sex symbol of the Victorian age.[1] He became a sort of celebrity during the rise of popular journalism at the turn of the century and was referred to as “the most kissed man in America.”

  4. Be careful not to confuse it with the

  5. Biscia beat me to it. That’s what you get for researching while cooking,

  6. From Wikipedia, Hobson sounds like he was a very interesting guy. It says Tesla was the best man at his wedding.

    There’s probably also a joke to be made here about “doing the Mann Act.”

  7. What’ve we got here? Crowd-searched etymology?

  8. Looks like Hobson died with a smile on his face.

  9. What’ve we got here? Crowd-searched etymology?

    A LH specialty (or, if you prefer, speciality).

  10. A LH specialty…

    A or An? Discuss.

  11. I vote for An.

  12. Strange that the Monday evening, 8 November 1886, issue of The Seymour [Indiana] Daily Democrat reported,

    ‘Charles E. Woodward went hunting, to-day. When the squirrels see Charles coming they gracefully do the Hobson act,—they “come down.”‘

  13. A or An? Discuss.

    Depends on how you (mentally) pronounce LH. I use it as a convenient way to write the name of the blog, and since I’m mentally saying “languagehat,” of course I use “a.” If you read LH and think “ell-aitch,” of course you’ll use “an.”

  14. As always, there is no One True Way.

  15. As always, there is no One True Way.

    As always, there are True Believers who know that theirs is the One True Way.

    H.L. Mencken had this to say about them:

    “ For every complex problem there is a single answer that is clear, simple,

    and wrong.”

  16. As always, there are True Believers who know that theirs is the One True Way.

    They are the bane of human existence, and they are distributed more or less equally among all political and religious persuasions. You’d think anarchists at least would be immune, but no.

  17. @Nick M. Could you please tell us where that issue of the newspaper may be seen (if possible, online).

  18. @cuchuflete: Interestingly there is another canonical version that quote, which I actually prefer.

    Grossman’s misquote of H. L. Mencken: “Complex problems have simple, easy-to-understand wrong answers.”

  19. @Brett:

    Thanks for that. By way of horse trading—and the price is right—I offer the paraphrase I first heard in Baltimore, some 50+ years ago: For every difficult, vexatious problem there is one easy, simple solution. And it’s wrong.

  20. You’d think anarchists at least would be immune, but no.

    “I toyed with anarchy once, but on reading into the subject I found that […] there are plain anarchists and syndicalist anarchists and deviationist anarchists and for all I know syndicalist deviationist anarchists. There’s as much anarchy in anarchy as there is in any political philosophy.” —Tully Bascomb, political philosopher and future Prince Consort of Grand Fenwick

  21. Well, sure, the problem isn’t that there are a lot of varieties — who wants uniform thinking? — but that the varieties despise each other as much as the various flavors of Marxist-Leninists.

  22. @Martin:

    Sure – I found it on, to which one has to subscribe:

    I actually found that edition, which didn’t come up in my search, via a reprint three days later:

    Searches depend on the quality of the capture and OCR, obviously, plus the site’s search engine has been dumbed down recently, so I didn’t spend much time on this. Still, the majority of results I saw confirm what’s been said above.

    One result is confusingly tagged by the site as printed in January 1881 but was actually printed in January 1899:


Speak Your Mind