What is the ‘-hood’ in ‘neighbourhood’?
Our words have an incredible ability to expand and contract. We might say that it’s in their nature – that it’s part of their very wordhood.
Take hood. Not the head covering but the hood, Black American English slang for an urban community. Attested by the Oxford English Dictionary since at least 1969, hood is shortened from neighbourhood, a word which has several centuries on its derivative.
The -hood in neighbourhood is a noun-forming suffix – not unlike the -dom of freedom we recently discussed on the blog – that denotes the condition, quality, or status of being something. Neighbourhood, for instance, is literally the ‘condition of being a neighbour’, first referring to actual people living by each other in the early 1400s before extending by the 1600s to the local area those folks call home.
What’s remarkable, though, about the hood isn’t just that everyday English speakers formed a new word from part of an existing word. That process, called clipping, is common in our language and yields such words as phone (via telephone) and pub (public house). It’s also that this particular item of slang, hood, returns the sticky suffix -hood to a state of being a word all on its own.
Peeking under the ‘-hood’
Old English had had, a word – no relation to have – with a number of meanings, including ‘person’, ‘sex’, ‘rank’, and ‘state’. With cognates in Gothic, Old High German, and Old Norse meaning ‘manner’ and ‘honour’, the simple but functional had is of Germanic stock. Cornerstone works like Beowulf and an early translation of Bede’s Ecclesiastical History leave us traces of had, which died out as its own word in Middle English but survived as the suffix -hood.
Even in Old English, though, had was piggybacking on other nouns. In fact, some of our oldest and most common -hood words date back to the Anglo-Saxon days, such as childhood, knighthood, livelihood, and priesthood. Livelihood originally meant the ‘course or conduct of one’s life’ before settling into its current ‘means of living’ by the 1300s. Those who didn’t achieve apostlehood, bishophood, disciplehood, monkhood, let alone godhood – all religious -hood words that join priesthood in the Old English record – could be said to number among the worldhood, or ‘secular world’ or ‘laypersons’.
Another early -hood is maidenhood, which is sister to maidenhead, or the ‘virginity’ and later ‘hymen’ of a woman. The -head in maidenhead is a suffix parallel to -hood and appears to come from the same root as had, though the details of its development are complicated. Some words are recorded with both suffixes, such as falsehood and falsehead or onehood and onehead; even childhood had a childhead counterpart.
Due to the linguistic accidents of history, -hood prevailed over -head, which, outside maidenhead, mainly survives in godhead. Perhaps you once imagined, as I, that godhead alluded to Greek mythology, where Athena is born from the head of Zeus, or figured that the head was metaphorical, gods being kinds of leaders. But godhead is simply godhood, with its Middle English sense of ‘the quality of being a god’ broadening to ‘deity’ more generally. Manhead stands in contrast, and the late 19th-century herohead is rare, later coinage based on them.
Touring the neighbourhood of ‘-hood’
The OED enters scores of -hood words, the bulk of which come, so far, as nonce formations from the 19th century: dandyhood, hobbledehoyhood, and muttonhood are good examples. We can find, though, certain themes in -hood words, giving us insights into the kinds of things that English most be-hoods: people.
The first category concerns personal identity and life stages. Widowhood is Old English, as we saw, while manhood, spousehood, and wedlockhood emerge at least in Middle English. Brotherhood, fatherhood, and sisterhood are attested in the late 14th century while womanhood and motherhood only make their debut in the 15th century as far as the current record shows. Boyhood is found in the late 1500s while girlhood isn’t until the 1740s, after the more obscure I-hood. The 19th century gives us the likes of adulthood as well as bachelorhood and teenhood, among others. The 20th century gives us grandparenthood, step-parenthood, toddlerhood, and, later than we might expect, personhood by the 1940s. Many of these are very infrequent in the language, but others, including manhood, womanhood, fatherhood, and motherhood are among the most common -hood words we use.
The second involves social stations and professions. We’ve already seen two of the most prominent examples, knighthood and priesthood, while a third, sainthood, is currently dated to the mid-1500s. We have royalty-hoods and lowli-hoods: kinghood, queenhood, and peasanthood. We have holy-hoods and unholy-hoods: priestesshood, heathenhood, and the humorous form of address, your hellhood. We have job-hoods: farmerhood, governesshood, merchanthood, poethood, and sheriffhood. We have fool-hoods: duncehood, flunkeyhood, nincompoophood, scamphood, and quackhood.
And besides these two groupings, we have a hodgepodge of others in humanhood, like these 20th-century instances: bodhisattvahood, celebrityhood, flapperhood, geekhood, hermithood, nerdhood, outsiderhood, patienthood, and supermanhood. The latter points us to monsterhood, such as dragonhood, elfhood, fairyhood, and ghosthood.
Dragons are mythical, but a host of real animals enjoy creaturehood, including, but by no means limited to: hawkhood, doghood, wormhood, cathood, froghood, chickenhood, hoghood, lionhood, monkeyhood, wasphood, fishhood, goosehood, grubhood, heiferhood, ravenhood, spiderhood, wolfhood, and even piglinghood and tadpolehood.
The hoodhood of ‘-hood’
The suffix -hood sees more personhood than thinghood, with the exception of three of the more familiar -hoods: likelihood, attested in the early 1400s, and statehood and nationhood, which the OED doesn’t currently record until a later-than-expected 1805 and 1843, respectively. Some instances are delightful one-offs: barleyhood (drunkenness), bookhood (which we must revive, IMHO), cipherhood (nothingness), and topsy-turvyhood (perfect for 2018, don’t you think?).
Only a handful of -hood words in the annals confer abstract-hood on modifying words: friendlihood, lonelihood, robustihood, and worthihood. Do those sound off to you, too? That’s because such nouns for qualities prefer a different neighbourhood in English: -ness. Friendliness, loneliness, robustness, and worthiness are the favoured forms. Consider childness vs. childhood or saintness vs. sainthood. Childness and saintness suggests characteristics (e.g., innocence, holiness) while their -hood companions a social role, a recognized status.
English may have long lost the source of -hood – that distinct word of had – but its root force of ‘person’ or ‘rank’ is alive and well in how we apply its legacy, the suffix -hood. We might even say its core sense of identity lives on in its slang progeny, the hood, when hip-hop artists, for instance, rep their cred as from the hood – or their hoodhood, as -hood so lets us call it.