"very large, unusually large for its type," 1882, a reference to Jumbo, name of the London Zoo's huge elephant (acquired from France, said to have been captured as a baby in Abyssinia in 1861), sold February 1882 to U.S. circus showman P.T. Barnum amid great excitement in America and great outcry in England, both fanned by Barnum.
"I tell you conscientiously that no idea of the immensity of the animal can be formed. It is a fact that he is simply beyond comparison. The largest elephants I ever saw are mere dwarfs by the side of Jumbo." [P.T. Barnum, interview, "Philadelphia Press," April 22, 1882]
The name is perhaps from slang jumbo "clumsy, unwieldy fellow" (1823), which itself is possibly from a word for "elephant" in a West African language (compare Kongo nzamba). OED suggests it is possibly the second element in Mumbo Jumbo. Century Dictionary says "The name was given as having an African semblance." As a product size, by 1886 (cigars). Jumbo jet attested by 1964. Jumbo was accidentally killed near St. Thomas, Ontario, Sept. 15, 1885, struck by a freight train while the circus was loading up to travel.
a word of vague etymology, perhaps a convergence of two or more words, given wide application in late 19c. and settling into its main modern meaning "floozie" from early 1920s, with a revival in 1980s.
Bimbo first appears as the name of an alcoholic punch, mentioned in newspapers from New York state (1837), Boston (1842), and New Orleans (1844, but as having come from Boston). This sense quickly fades, though it occasional is on menus as late as 1895.
From 1860-1910, Bimbo as a proper name is frequent: It is the name or part of the name of several race horses, dogs, and monkeys, a circus elephant (perhaps echoing Jumbo), and a jester character in a play. It is in the title of a three-act musical farce ("Bimbo of Bombay"), and the name of a popular "knockabout clown"/actor in England and several other stage clowns. Also it appears as a genuine surname, and "The Bimbos" were a popular brother-sister comedy acrobatics team in vaudeville.
A separate bimbo seems to have entered American English c. 1900, via immigration, as an Italian word for a little child or a child's doll, evidently a contraction of bambino "baby."
By 1920 it began to be used generally of a stupid or ineffectual man, a usage Damon Runyon in 1919 traced to Philadelphia prize-fight slang. He wrote, that July, in a column printed in several newspapers, of a hotel lobby fist-fight between "Yankee Schwartz, the old Philadelphia boxer," and another man, which Schwartz wins.
"No Bimbo can lick me," he said, breathlessly, at the finish.
"What's a Bimbo?" somebody asked "Tiny" Maxwell, on the assumption that "Tiny" ought to be familiar with the Philadelphia lingo.
A bimbo," said "Tiny," "is t-t-two degrees lower than a coo-coo—cootie."
The word does turn up in Philadelphia papers' accounts of prizefights (e.g. "Fitzsimmons Is No Bimbo," Evening Public Ledger, May 25, 1920).
By 1920 the sense of "floozie" had developed (said to have been popularized by "Variety" staffer Jack Conway), perhaps boosted by "My Little Bimbo Down on Bamboo Isle," a popular 1920 song in which the singer (imploring the audience not to alert his wife) tells of "his shipwreck on a Fiji Isle and the little Bimbo he left down on that Bamboo isle." Its resurrection in this sense during 1980s U.S. political sex scandals led to derivatives including diminutive bimbette (1990) and male form himbo (1988).
late 14c., huge biblical beast (Job xl.15), from Latin behemoth, from Hebrew b'hemoth, usually taken as plural of intensity of b'hemah "beast." But the Hebrew word is perhaps a folk etymology of Egyptian pehemau, literally "water-ox," the name for the hippopotamus. Used in modern English for any huge beast.
Long before Jumbo was dreamed of, a hippo was exhibited by George K. Bailey, who invented the tank on wheels now used so generally in the circuses. The beast was advertised as "the blood sweating Behemoth of Holy Writ," and he made several men rich. [Isaac F. Marcosson, "Sawdust and Gold Dust," in The Bookman, June 1910]
late 14c., "Latin grammar, rules of Latin," from Old French gramaire "grammar; learning," especially Latin and philology, also "(magic) incantation, spells, mumbo-jumbo" (12c., Modern French grammaire), an "irregular semi-popular adoption" [OED] of Latin grammatica "grammar, philology," perhaps via an unrecorded Medieval Latin form *grammaria. The classical Latin word is from Greek grammatike (tekhnē) "(art) of letters," referring both to philology and to literature in the broadest sense, fem. of grammatikos (adj.) "pertaining to or versed in letters or learning," from gramma "letter" (see -gram). An Old English gloss of it was stæfcræft (see staff (n.)).
A much broader word in Latin and Greek; restriction of the meaning to "systematic account of the rules and usages of language" is a post-classical development. Until 16c. limited to Latin; in reference to English usage by late 16c., thence "rules of a language to which speakers and writers must conform" (1580s). Meaning "a treatise on grammar" is from 1520s. For the "magic" sense, compare gramary. The sense evolution is characteristic of the Dark Ages: "learning in general, knowledge peculiar to the learned classes," which included astrology and magic; hence the secondary meaning of "occult knowledge" (late 15c. in English), which evolved in Scottish into glamour (q.v.).
A grammar-school (late 14c.) originally was a school for learning Latin, which was begun by memorizing the grammar. In U.S. (1842) the term was put to use in the graded system for a school between primary and secondary where English grammar is one of the subjects taught. The word is attested earlier in surnames (late 12c.) such as Robertus Gramaticus, Richard le Gramarie, whence the modern surname Grammer.