Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Chum - Best Friend Forever!

Two boys from Mumbai, India, with their arms around each other, smiling to the camera
Two chums from Mumbai, India
(photo by Brett Davies)


Noun. Colloquial. Late 17th century.
[Probably short for chamber-fellow: originally Oxford University slang equivalent to Cambridge crony.]

A person who shares apartments with another or others;
(now usually) an intimate friend, especially among schoolchildren.

Chum and crony are both university slang, with chum (Oxford) probably being short for chamber-fellow and crony (Cambridge) derived from the Greek khronios, meaning 'long-lasting' and, in this case, a contemporary. Their modern use has taken divergent paths, however, as while chum has developed into something generally friendly and childlike, crony is now almost always derogatory.

Other than the noun itself, chum has a number of related words and constructions, all of which sound progressively less wholesome than chum itself. For example, it can also be used as a verb, to chum, meaning 'to share rooms with, be very friendly with'. You can also chum up to someone, meaning 'to form a close friendship with' (although, for me, chumming up does carry a shade of insincerity about it). As for chumship and chummery, both meaning 'intimate friendship', they just sound a bit weird, at least where adults are concerned. And finally, there is chummage, being a fee demanded by prisoners from a new inmate, or from a longer-serving prisoner to a new cell-mate, something I'm sure we can agree a true chum would never do.

Three men in wigs busking in Galway, Ireland
Me and two of my chums busking in Galway
(and, yes, proper chums, as we lived together at the time)
Do you have any chums?

Have you ever paid, demanded or negotiated chummage?

Do please leave your most pedigree comments in the box below.


  1. A couple seen sitting close together for the evening could be described as chummy.

    1. They could, but it still has a mildly negative connotation, no? Like a synonym for 'as thick as thieves'.

  2. I named my first dog Chum.
    He really was my best friend. Lots of fond memories there.

    While I've not used the noun chum for quite some time, I still do use chummy when describing those who are very friendly.
    I've not used it the way you described Eric, but why not! :)
    Me and my man are very chummy! :)

    1. Chum - it's a sweet name for a dog! And a person who knows a lot more about dogs than I once told me that single-syllable names for best for dogs, as they don't really listen to any subsequent syllables.