"Bo" - what does it mean exactly?



What does it mean exactly when an Australian sends a greeting by "Bo" in daily conversation?

Does it just mean "hello"?

Does it have different meaning if it is said by a person from the native tribe in Australia?

  • Note 05/18/16

To appease my curiosity, I have asked the person and got this answer:

  • Bo is addressed to the opposite sex.

  • To emphasize, it is even said with double O --> Boo.

  • When I was listening to the explanation, I was supposed to believe that Bo is more than just a mate.

Thank you everyone for your responses. Have a great day!


Posted 2016-05-14T13:24:08.877

Reputation: 1 619

I'm Australian. I've never heard or seen that. If I saw it only once I'd guess it was a typo for "Yo" or "Bro". – nnnnnn – 2016-05-14T13:40:33.010

There's a lot of diversity amongst Australia's indigenous communities, with more than one hundred languages, and like most white people I'm not familiar with those languages, but as I said before I've never heard "Bo" as a greeting. Obviously my not knowing the term doesn't mean that it isn't in use, but it's certainly not in common use. From the answer below it wasn't originally Australian. (To me, a Bo is a long staff used in martial arts.) – nnnnnn – 2016-05-14T14:17:18.067

Could you give an example sentence? I've found different meanings of bo. – Alan Carmack – 2016-05-15T04:20:27.870

"To emphasize it is even with two O; Boo" - No, "boo" and "bo" are two different words. "Boo" isn't just "bo" with additional emphasis. – nnnnnn – 2016-05-18T03:34:23.673



Bo (slang) is a form of addressing a friend, a boy, a fellow.

1.another name for a friend

2.put in place of a person's name

Hey bo, what's shakin'?

Source: Urban Dictionary

Entry from British & World English dictionary:
bo 3
Pronunciation: /bəʊ/

US informal
Used as a friendly form of address.
Origin: Early 19th century: perhaps an abbreviated form of boy.

I first met this word reading P.G.Wodehouse.

“You’re lookin’ kind o’ sick, bo,” was Steve’s comment. “I guess you was hittin’ it up with the gang last night in one of them lobster parlors.” Bailey objected to being addressed as “bo”.


Posted 2016-05-14T13:24:08.877

Reputation: 6 933

2Note that your quote is from one of Wodehouse's novels set in New York. Bo, probably an apocopated form of boy, was common but slangy in the first half of the 20th century; it had become dated by the time I was a boy in the 50s. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-05-14T14:26:05.520

1It's still the form of addressing and it means "a friend ".And modern usage is also slangy. And although it's a mere coincidence the word just reminded me about that book. – V.V. – 2016-05-14T15:02:29.577

1Interesting. Apparently it's been revived. I've never encountered this 'bo' in living speech, but I'm no longer in close touch with the slang of contemporary youth. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2016-05-14T15:44:43.673

I deleted the quote. – V.V. – 2016-05-14T15:46:35.653

2Why delete the quote? It's a useful way of showing that the word has been around for quite a while. – nnnnnn – 2016-05-14T20:27:07.360

“You’re lookin’ kind o’ sick, bo,” was Steve’s comment. “I guess you was hittin’ it up with the gang last night in one of them lobster parlors.” Bailey objected to being addressed as “bo,” a – V.V. – 2016-05-15T03:29:45.830


You really do need to ask your Australian interlocutor, but he probably just meant mate (friend). The term is not specific to Australian English; I would have no idea what it might mean if uttered by "a person from the native tribe in Australia."

The Australian Oxford Dictionary (2nd edition) defines bo as

(colloquial) (as a form of address) pal; old chap.

and says the origin is US English.

Jonathon Green's Green's Dictionary of Slang (Oxford University Press)(over 100,000 entries) has three entries for bo and has more example uses for each than even the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). One meaning is that it is short for bohemian and I doubt that is the one you are asking about.

The most common meaning is


1 (also [spelled] beau, boh) a fellow, a man, a friend, often as a form of address, e.g. Hey, bo.

It gives usages ranging from 1825 to 1988, so according to Green, at least, the bo of today (found for example in the Urban Dictionary) is the same bo of almost 200 years ago. So that would include the usage by P.G. Wodehouse in V.V.'s answer.

Three examples from Green:

1867 W.H. Smyth Sailor's Word-Book (1991) 111: Bo. Abbreviation of boy. A familiar epithet for a comrade, derived probably from the negro.

1957 Kerouac On The Road (1972) 64: Say, bo, what was all the noise around here last night?

1978 D. DeLillo Running Dog (1992) 185: Hey, bo, come on down.

The above usage is short for boy and sometimes written bo'.

In Australian English and US English, bo also means

2 (Aus./US) (also [spelled] bow) a vagrant, a tramp.

Green considers this an abbreviation of hobo (so it is sometimes written 'bo), which Green defines as a tramp, a vagrant, an itinerant worker, often using the US rail system as a means of free transport. Obviously hobos in Australia wouldn't be using the US rail system.

I love this example (also found in the OED) which seems to offer an explanation of the term:

1893 Chicago Record 14 July 11/3: An' den w'en ye meets one uv yer own kind ye feels like old pals, 'cause he calls ye ‘Ho’ an' ye calls him ‘Bo’. See?

An example from 100 years later

1991 O.D. Brooks Legs 2: A bum that won't rustle food for himself […] is scorned by the bos that hustle for themselves.

Yet another definition in Green is

4 (US) a tramp's young homosexual companion; thus a young, effeminate male homosexual.

So, you might want to ask your friend whether he was calling you "mate" ("friend"), "bum" ("hobo"), "bohemian", or "queer" (homosexual).

You can see all these uses online in an abridgement of the above work, Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, page 143, halfway down the left column.

Alan Carmack

Posted 2016-05-14T13:24:08.877

Reputation: 11 630

And there's also the usage as in bo selecta

– Martin Smith – 2016-05-15T08:00:29.663

"also beau," seems a bit troubling. That is the male form of the French belle, and quite commonly used to refer to a lady's love-interest. In that sense is it not only not a short form of boy, it is highly unlikely that a man would address a male friend in that way unless they are in a romantic relationship... – oerkelens – 2016-05-15T10:41:20.543

beau here is not the word you talk about meaning "sweetheart"; it is an alternate spelling of bo (and obviously sounds the same as bo), possibly influenced by a different meaning of beau, which is: "Used in affection, friendship, or politeness, in addressing relations, friends, etc. (usually with their French titles): equal to the English ‘fair’ (fair sir), ‘good’ (good people), ‘dear’ (dear sir)." –OED @oerkelens et al. – Alan Carmack – 2016-05-15T13:54:17.267

@Student, he probably just meant "mate" or "friend". Why don't you ask him what he meant? – Alan Carmack – 2016-05-15T13:58:30.393

Okay, that's interesting, @Student – Alan Carmack – 2016-05-17T15:05:03.603

"To emphasize it is even with two O; Boo" - No, "boo" is a different word, not "bo" with additional emphasis. – nnnnnn – 2016-05-18T03:31:49.127

@nnnnnn It is when you sound it with echo happily to find someone to talk to, something like that :) G'day mate! :) – Student – 2016-05-18T04:31:51.450

In the U.S., I have never read "bo". I have only heard the word used to mean roughly "boyfriend" where it is spelled beau. – Wayne Goode – 2017-11-17T23:46:51.050