Bob

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Bob has several meanings. OED lists ten nouns and seven verbs, many of which are rare or obsolete. Some of the connections and differences are obscure. The following may be of use to readers of AWE.

  • Bob is a short form of the forename Robert. There are two main types of such shortenings: they are convenient for writing, e.g. in lists; or they are essentially spoken pet-names, and thus informal. (See Conventional abbreviations for forenames.)
Short form Long form Informal or written Other short forms Remarks
Bob Robert informal Bobbie/Bobby; Rab(bie); Robby; Dob; Hob; Nob(by); Robin

There is a list of similar names at Conventional abbreviations for forenames, as well as the category:short names

Note that any informal form may be spelled in different ways. Notably, any spelling listed that ends in '-ie' may be written with the ending '-y', and vice versa.
    • The slang phrase "Bob's your Uncle" means 'You're all right'. It is unclear to which Robert (if any) it refers.
      • At Eton, the slang terms dry-bob and wet-bob mean 'a boy who plays cricket (or other land games)' and 'a boy who rows' during the summer 'half' (= term). OED thonks this is 'perhaps' from the pet-name. Byron, who went to Harrow, for whom he played cricket against Eton, puns on this when he compares the lack of emotion of one of his pet hates the Poet Laureate Robert Southey (1774-1843) in:
...like the flying fish
Gasping on deck, because you soar too high, Bob,
And fall, for lack of moisture, quite a-dry, Bob!
Don Juan, dedication, 3
  • The commonest meaning of the verb appears to be 'to move up and down'. Ducks bob up and down on the waves, and fruits may bob on the branches of fruit trees in wind. This gives rise to
      • 'to bob' as synonym for 'to curtsey' (for women) (sometimes this is called 'dropping a curtsey', or more otiosely 'bobbing a curtsey'), or 'to bow [informally, by a quick duck of the head] in men. There is a totally related noun, as in 'to drop a bob', and 'he gave a bob of the head'.
      • 'bobbing for apples [etc] - game in which players with hands immobilized try to catch apples, either floating in water or dangling by strings, in their mouths.
  • There is also a noun meaning 'a rounded lump on the end [of something]', seemingly derived from the obsolete meaning 'a bunch' - of flowers or fruit such as moves up and down in wind. An example is "a bob of cherries" offered by shepherds in a mystery play to the infant Jesus. Currently this is commonest in the weight on the end of a pendulum (a in a grandfather clock), or at the end of a plumb-line, as used by builders etc. (This is a plumb-bob.)
      • Such a 'rounded lump' becomes the name of a hair-style - different at different times. Currently it means cut short all round. In the days when men of the privileged classes wore wigs, a 'bobbed wig' or bob-wig was one shorter than a full-bottomed wig, with curls of hair on the sides.
      • It also used to mean 'a refrain', or the chorus of a song. Most commonly now this is used by literary scholars in English to mean a very short (perhaps two-syllable) line introducing a rhyming quatrain of three-beat lines at the end of each section of a medieval alliterative poem.
        • The word in the prosodic sense may be derived from bell-ringing, where British church bells are mounted on wheels which are turned ('made to bob up and down') by a rope. A series of methods of change-ringing is known as Bob - e.g. plain bob minor and grandsire bob triples (an obsolete term).
  • Before Britain's currency was decimalized in 1973 (see Pounds, shillings and pence), the everyday use of bob was the commonest colloquial name for a shilling. The phrase "he's got a few bob or two" is still used as an understatement to mean 'he's rich', 'he can lay his hands on [considerable quantities of] coin.'