Like many degenerate post-pubescent teens growing up in regional American subcultures, my group of friends from Boulder, Colorado had vocabulary all our own. “Hesh” was a skateboarder term that meant “burly” or “tough.” “Hindz” was a verb we invented for “to use,” “to have,” or if one of us got lucky, “to bone.” “Hogans,” meanwhile, was the go-to stand-in for “boobs.”
For the first 30 years of my life, I assumed everyone knew this. I thought “hogans” was just another lesser-used breast word like “hooters” or “melons,” and that while it wasn’t most people’s noun of choice, they’d at least know what I meant if I said “her humongous hogans were heaving heavily.”
God, was I wrong. Last month, during a conversation about boobs with my friend Kate, my naivety was laid bare when I jokingly dropped a “hogan” into the mix, only to be met with silence and a bemused stare. “What did you call them?” she laughed. “Like, Hulk Hogan? Or Hogan’s Heroes?”
“No!” I shot back, jazzed that I had become the resident Boob Euphemism Expert. “Not like a wrestler. Not like a sitcom about American POWs. I’m talkin’ boobs. Tatas. Titties. Gazongas. Big naturals. A rack. You’ve never heard of this?”
She had not. Flabbergasted, I ran a poll on Twitter to see if the general population was as hogan-illiterate as she was. As it turns out, they were — to my devastation, only 15.8 percent of my minions knew that “hogans” meant “boobs.”
But despite the relative scarcity of my Hogan Hive, plenty of people are up on their meaning, and the word has several titty-related definitions peppered across the web to prove it. Urban Dictionary colorfully defines them as both “especially pink Dutch breasts” and a unit of breast measurement equivalent to “one mouthful of tits”; a few brave souls on Twitter have even attempted to induct them into the running list of English-language boob euphemisms.
Clearly, there’s some sort of precedent for hogans, and people had to have heard about them somewhere. The question is, where? Who gave boobs such an obscure, but satisfying name, and why, for the love of big naturals, are we wasting time calling boobs anything else?
I first heard about hogans from Jeff, a pseudonymous friend of mine who might have been single-handedly responsible for birthing half the inane regionalisms that came out of Colorado in the early 2000s. He was known for cackling at his own jokes, which only made him more endearing; drunken nights would find us crammed around the keg at some college party no one had invited us to, with him laughing maniacally about whatever hookup-gone-wrong had transpired the night before. One of those evenings, he said something about a date’s “hogans,” punctuating the story with his hyena-like laugh.
Hogans. I rolled the word around in my mouth, feeling its roundness slide across my tongue. It felt how it sounded — soft, bouncy, fun. I scanned my brain for images of whatever a “hogan” was, but found nothing. Was a hogan a thing? A person? A feeling? Whatever it was, it sounded better than “cans.”
Jeff’s not quite sure what a hogan is either. His first time hearing the word came from the campy 1986 film Night of the Creeps, a movie about murderous space slugs who invade a college campus. In it, there’s a scene where the main character, Chris, sees his crush Cynthia for the first time. “Who’s that?” he asks his sidekick J.C. as he stares, slack-jawed, at his “goddess.” Standing amidst a group of friends outside a frat party, she laughs knowingly as the camera zooms in on her face.
“Oh, the one with the hogans?” J.C. says back, fully ignoring the fact that Cynthia does not, in fact, have hogans. Relatively flat-chested and dressed in a modest white top, there’s absolutely no reason her character should be introduced by the size of her breasts.
For whatever reason, Jeff thought this discrepancy was hilarious. He cackled at the scene and started referring to tits as “hogans” during polite conversation; his delivery confident enough that no one ever asked what the hell he was saying. “It’s a funny word because it’s not overtly sexual or even really gross,” he says now. “It’s just a funny name for something. I’m sure if someone heard me say it, they felt the same and started saying it too.”
Fred Dekker, the film’s director, thought the word was hilarious, too. But when I reached out to him over Facebook to see where he first heard the term, he had a hard time remembering. It’d been 34 years since he wrote the script, but he did recall hearing it once or twice and thinking it was funny in a “John Hughes sort of way.”
Then, as if that memory reactivated a decades-old neural circuit in his brain, he remembered something else: “There’s the slimmest possibility I stole the word from the hilarious, brilliant and aggressively un-woke The Utterly Monstrous Mind-Roasting Summer of O.C. and Stiggs.”
A-ha! A clue.
For the uninitiated, O.C. and Stiggs are a pair of malevolent teens from a series of fictional National Lampoon stories who share the wholesome hobbies of picking up “sluts” and torturing bigoted insurance salesmen. Funny Dekker should mention them, because according to slang lexicographer Jonathon Green, one of the earliest examples of hogans-as-tits does actually come from National Lampoon. In his online Dictionary of Slang, Green cites an October 1987 issue that contains the following sentence: “Bending over so that great cubic hogans of boze [breast] were displayed.” Here, as in Urban Dictionary, “hogans” seem to be a unit of measurement. Elsewhere, “Hogan” is an Irish surname that roughly translates to “young.”
There are other tantalizing hints in Green’s dictionary, most of which he guesses originated from “male badinage and stereotyping” on campuses or in the U.S. military. Author John Quirk used the word “hogan” to mean “young women” in his 1962 book No Red Ribbons, and the 1993 novel Bomber’s Law featured some “gorgeous hogans” on a “junior cheerleader.” But by far the most lyrical use of the term comes from the 1967 novel The Admiral. “He admired the mound of her breast in splendid isolation,” wrote author Martin Dibner. “With hogans like that, he thought, who needs the Taj Mahal?”
I do, apparently, because its stately marble domes offer even deeper insights. Green’s dictionary entry for “hogans” cites a doctor who speculated that the term could be an architectural one, possibly even originating from the name of a traditional Navajo house. “They are dome-shaped and easily visualized as breasts,” the doctor said, not at all creepily. Seeing as the Navajo hogan is the only hogan modern English has to offer, he might not be wrong.
Green wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case. “The link between breast-shaped structures, whether human-made or natural (e.g., the Teton Range of mountains) and breast slang is far from unknown,” he says, directing me to the “breasts” page on his interactive slang timeline. Rummaging through the entries — the earliest of which is from 1508 — that much appears to be true. From “dumplings” to “bongos,” it appears every slightly round thing that’s ever existed in the last 500 years has been recruited into the boob lexicon.
Even so, Kate has no desire to use these words, and she’s not planning on asking her crush if she can “see her hogans” anytime soon. It’s too rare a gem for the common tongue, and for now, she says she’ll settle for the old tried-and-true: “Boobs.”
“The world isn’t ready,” she says. “But when it is, I’ll be there, hogans out.”