Trend Watch

Boob Tube

Viewers of Live! with Kelly and Michael debate the etymology of the term

Following its appearance this morning, January 12th, on the television program Live! with Kelly and Michael boob tube is suddenly trending. In addition to spurring many people to turn to their dictionaries in search of information on this word, many people have taken to Twitter to voice their opinion on the etymology and history of boob tube.

sorry but u r both wrong about the #boobtube it was called that cuz every #TV had big tubes in it! (Tweet, @blazinred09, 11:07 AM)

BOOB TUBE came about in the 60's 70's an was a slang for watching women with big boobs on tv shows (Tweet, @TROY5719, 10:29 AM)

Although boob is indeed a common slang term for a woman’s breast, and televisions did indeed formerly have tubes in them, these do not not appear to have served as the basis for the term. Boob has also served as a common term for a foolish person for over a hundred years, and television has been referred to as ‘the tube’ since the 1950s. The two words were combined based on the notion that much of what is viewed on television is either foolish, or geared toward foolish people, also known as the booboisie, a word coined by HL Mencken for ‘the class composed of all who are considered boobs’.

Recent research has found that boob tube has been used since the 1950s, as evidenced by the final newspaper column of TV critic William Ewald:

As a chronicler of the boob-tube, I have received hundreds of letters, but the bulk of them fall into predictable categories and can be answered rather simply. (Marietta Daily Journal, August 14, 1959)

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