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A tramp is a long-term homeless person who travels from place to place as a vagrant, traditionally walking all year round. The term "tramp" became a common way to refer to such people in 19th century America.
Tramp is derived from the Middle English as a verb meaning to "walk with heavy footsteps" (cf. modern English trample) and to go hiking. In the United States, the word became frequently used during the American Civil War, to describe the widely shared experience of undertaking long marches, often with heavy packs. Use of the word as a noun is thought to have began shortly after the war. A few veterans had developed a liking for the "call of the road", others may have been too traumatised by war time experience to return to settled life. The number of transient homeless people increased markedly in the U.S. after the industrial recession of the early 1870s. Initially, the term "tramp" had a broad meaning, and was often used to refer to migrant workers who were looking for permanent work and lodgings. Later the term acquired a narrower meaning, to refer only to those who prefer the transient way of life.
While tramps may do odd jobs from time to time, unlike other temporarily homeless people they do not seek out regular work and support themselves by other means such as begging or scavenging (see Waste picker). This is in contrast to:
Both terms, "tramp" and "hobo" (and the distinction between them), were in common use between the 1880s and the 1940s. Their populations and the usage of the terms increased during the Great Depression.
Like "hobo" and "bum," the word "tramp" is considered vulgar in American English usage, having been subsumed in more polite contexts by words such as "homeless person" or "vagrant." At one time, tramps were known euphemistically in England and Wales as "gentlemen of the road."
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