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Vagrant vs Hobo: All You Have To Know

by subhasree nag

Have you ever come across the terms vagrant and a hobo? Not sure about the difference or what these words mean? Well, you are not the only one in the dark. There are many like you. 

Both words are used to describe someone wandering and homeless. Both the term has something different to them, and knowing in detail would help us to understand the challenges both face who are without a job or home. 

Vagrant Vs Hobo: The Basic Difference


Both words have the same meaning and are often used interchangeably when you want to describe a homeless person. But when we look into it precisely, there are a few differences between both the words.

A person who roams from one place to another without a job or a home.A person who is homeless but travels from one place to another by hopping on freight trains.
They do not have any specific purpose or destination for traveling.They often have a destination fixed or have a goal for traveling.
May be involved in panhandling or other ways of begging for their survival.Often does odd jobs to make ends meet or does manual labor to get food or money.
May have some addiction issues or mental illness. They might have chosen this nomadic life for themselves to escape societal norms and responsibilities.

Vagrant Vs Hobo: Definition

A vagrant is someone who does not have a permanent address or a fixed place to live. They might roam from one place to another and sleep in public places like sidewalks and parks or some abandoned buildings. Vagrants mostly rely on begging and other different forms of charity for their survival. The term is frequently associated with homelessness.

A hobo is someone who generally travels from one place to another, mostly by freight trains, without a permanent job or home. Hobos are mainly related to one specific culture that evolved in the US back in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. They live in temporary camps, popularly termed “hobo jungles,” and depend on odd jobs, theft, or panhandling for a living.

When To Use The Term Hobo?

As we have discussed, a hobo is referred to as a person without a permanent home and could be assumed as a short form of homeless. To be precise, a hobo is a form of professional wanderer that roams in the country.

The term hobo has been circulating for ages and has become a negative connotation to it. It is considered to be polite to call someone “a hobo” on their face. Mainly, hobos are people who travel of their own will and do not settle in any single place.

Examples Of Using Hobo In A Sentence

  • The hobo walked past the street with his hands in his pocket, and his head bowed down.
  • Ben told Jay that he was acting like an original hobo when he denied him the money he owed him.
  • Barry is kind of a hobo who traveled to a lot of cities with no proper means of making anything out of it.
  • I watched a movie yesterday where the thief tricked the police and escaped by dressing like a hobo.
  • She took me to the movies yesterday, it was really good and was about the life story of a hobo.

When To Use The Term Vagrant?

We have mentioned earlier as well that “a vagrant” is a homeless person who lives on the street. Contrary to hobos, a vagrant generally stays in one place and does not move often. It is quite obvious that this form of living is extremely tough, but very few number of people deliberately choose this way of living.

Examples Of Using Vagrant In A Sentence

  • The city has become overpopulated by vagrants, they are really doing a struggle to survive on the streets.
  • That poop vagrant who used to live by 9th Avenue died in an accident yesterday.
  • That vagrant, Steve, who lives by our lane, is a really educated man.
  • The vagrants who lived here were resourceful and resilient; they survived even though there were many challenges.
  • The local charity shelter was quite generous and offered the vagrants free housing.

Vagrant vs hobo, if we judge that in terms of popularity, with the help of ngram data by Google, the term vagrant undoubtedly is more popular in published literature. This is because of the fact that the term is a bit more formal than the word hobo, which is often considered slang for a homeless person. For example, “Where are you at” is considered slang for the phrase “Where are you?”

It is quite common that the popularity of a term or vocabulary changes with time. The word vagrant is less popular now than it was back in the late 1800s and the early 1900s.

Wrapping Up!

There is a significant difference between vagrant vs hobo, but both terms are used to refer to someone who is homeless. But a vagrant person lives life depending on others’ charity and begging, and a hobo has some purpose of traveling and might have a goal decided for himself.


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