The Secret Language of Vagabonds and Traveling Hobos

Traveling Hobo Signs

Not surprisingly, vagabonds and traveling hobos have their own system of language which I’m sure dates back decades, if not centuries.

Some hobos now communicate via cellular phones and e-mail. But the classic American hobo of early this century communicated through a much more basic system of marks–a code through which they gave information and warnings to their fellow Knights of the Road. Usually, these signs would be written in chalk or coal on a trestle, fence, building or sidewalk, letting others know what they could expect in the area of the symbol.

Check out the list of Hobo Signs & Symbols which seems a rather apropos addendum to the photo essay I mentioned a while back on The Underground World of Real Life Vagabonds.

My favorites: “Man with a gun lives here.” and “Kind woman lives here. Tell a pitiful story.”

How many symbols can you guess? Most are not really intuitive at all, but I suppose that’s the point.

About The Author

Founding Editor

Mike Richard has traveled the world extensively since 2008. He's camped in the Jordanian desert with Bedouins, tracked African wild dogs in South Africa, and survived a near-miss shark attack in Mexico. He loves the great outdoors, good bourbon, and he (usually) calls Massachusetts home. He also enjoys speaking in the third person.

7 Responses

  1. Taylor

    I think Hobos’ are very amazing. I’ve experienced them myself. They live an amazing type of life they live near a river & whatever they don’t want they give to a store & they can buy what they do want.

  2. Sheila Quinn

    Just had the strangest thing happen. Saw some “hobo language” on a secret at, and became really interested…then I realized that this weekend in Montreal I saw some written on the back of a building! I have to go back and read what it said!

    Mike, would you be interested in an interview on my radio show? I’m based out of Sherbrooke, Quebec! Email me!

  3. Dong wang

    What does the triangle with the antlers mean? Someone please.

  4. Robert Hutchings

    to: Dong wang,
    a triangle with antlers means “a man with a gun lives here”


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