[ boi ]
/ bɔɪ /
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See synonyms for: boy / boys on Thesaurus.com

interjection Also oh, boy .
an exclamation of wonder, approval, etc., or of displeasure or contempt.
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Origin of boy

First recorded in 1250–1300; Middle English boy(e), perhaps after Old English Bōia a man's name; cognate with Frisian boi “young man”; akin to Old English bōfa, Old Norse bōfi, Old High German Buobo a man's name (German Bube “knave” (dialectal “boy, lad”)

usage note for boy

During the slavery and Jim Crow eras, white southerners would use the term boy to refer to or address a Black adult male, implying that Black people were inferior. In the meaning “native male servant,” boy was originally used in colonial territories and in the ports of China, Japan, etc., through which trade with foreign countries was permitted by special treaty.


boy , buoy
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


Where does the word boy come from?

Like girl, boy dates back to around 1250–1300. Also like the word girl, the ultimate origin of the word boy is obscure.

There are some clues to the roots of boy, however. It might be based on the Old English Bōia, a male given name. Furthermore, boy is related to the Frisian boi, “young man,” and the German Bube, “knave, boy, lad.” (Frisian, a language spoken in the northern Netherlands, is the Germanic language most closely related to English.) Interestingly, that German sense of “knave” is close in meaning to “male servant,” one of the earliest uses of boy. 

Boy isn’t alone: it finds lots of company in other English words that seem simple but whose origins are not. Discover more in our slideshow “‘Dog,’ ‘Boy,’ And Other Words That We Don’t Know Where They Came From.”

Did you know … ?

While boy usually means a male child, there are multiple instances where boy refers to a young adult or adult man. For instance, a boy band is often made up of young adult male performers, and a cowboy is a man that works on a ranch with cows. Adult men may also sometimes refer to his buddies as his boys or the boys. Parents will also frequently refer to their sons as their boys regardless of their age. Boy appears in countless expressions, from bad boy to boy oh boy!

Please note: calling Black adult men or other male members of minority groups boy is offensive. Read our Usage Note for more important context.

How to use boy in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for boy

/ (bɔɪ) /

an exclamation of surprise, pleasure, contempt, etcboy, is he going to be sorry!

Word Origin for boy

C13 (in the sense: male servant; C14: young male): of uncertain origin; perhaps from Anglo-French abuié fettered (unattested), from Latin boia fetter
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Other Idioms and Phrases with boy


The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.