The term “Boob Tube” is often used to describe television and cheap entertainment, but its origins and meaning go far beyond the small screen, as it is also encountered in the fashion industry.
The phrase has been around since the 1960s, and there are debates as to its original definition.
“Boob Tube” also refers to a tight-fitting top dress that showed off a woman’s curves, also known as a tube top.
In popular culture, it was seen as something women wore to gain attention from men.
Interestingly, both meanings stuck, although the one related to cheap entertainment and television remained mostly prevalent in the United States, while the “Boob Tube” referring to clothes became a globally used expression.
The combination of the words “boob” and “tube” comes from the fact the TVs back then were literal tubes since the screen was the far end of a cathode ray tube.
And since watching TV was associated with foolishness and watching it was indulging foolishness, and “boob” was a slang for someone who is sort of an idiot in the 1960s.
The pejorative term quickly stuck after televisions became common in households in the United States, where watcing TV could be described as watching the “Boob Tube”.
Despite this, it wasn’t until the 1980s that the phrase “Boob Tube” became widely used to describe television.
The word “boob” also took on a different connotation: it was now used to refer to something of low-quality or low brow entertainment.
“Boob Tube”, referring to tube tops, which also started emerging in the 1960s, started appearing as a slang expression in Great Britain, where it has been stuck ever since.
Today, the phrase still refers to television, but it can also be used in a more light-hearted manner.
Many people use it in a jocular way when referring to their favorite shows or genres of TV programming.
It can also be used as an insult when someone doesn’t like what they are watching—the implication being that the show is not worth their time.
Apart from that, the fact that televisions evolved to be slimmer, and further developments in the fashion industry led to a shift in the meaning of “Boob Tube”, with more uses referring to a kind of straples top, worn by women.
This, however, is especially prevalent in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth countries, namely South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.
- Urban Dictionary – Boob Tube