We hear a lot about girls/boys these days are they better in co-ed schools? Why do girls often seem better scholars ? And the questions go on.
But what is a boy? Why call them boys? For the answer – and interest, let’s go back a long way to take look at the word relatives of the word boy Bosporus for a start. The Bosporus forms part of the water division between Europe and Asia – once a very important route for shifting cattle. Bosphorus, from Greek, translates as bos- ox + phor(us) a ford – a place where cattle could cross. Ox/ford is the perfect translation, a ford for oxen. Oxen?
That initial bo- occurs in boulimia bou-, ox + limia, hunger. The poor sufferer, usually feminine, has an ‘appetite of a bull’.
Latin has similar spelling: bos, bovis, giving us bovine, either relating to cattle, or stupid, dull; bovate, a measure of land, as much as an ox could plough in a year (from 10 to 18 acres); and Bovril a proprietary name for a concentrated essence of beef.
A slight spelling change gives us buoy, but we’re still with the ox. A buoy is a specially shaped and coloured floating body marking lanes or navigable channels for shipping. Tethered to the bottom of the water, originally that tether was made of leather from an ox. Buoyant and buoyancy join us here. We owe a lot to the ox. So where does boy fit in all this. Originally a ‘boy’ was a man-servant tethered with – you guessed it ox leather. But that’s a long time ago. It’s just that the word hangs on.
And in case any girls are sniggering, their name has no pedigree; no-one is absolutely sure where ‘girl’ comes from.