Word Origin & History
familiar shortening of masc. proper name Thomas
, used by late 14c. as a type of a nickname for a common man. Applied 17c. as a nickname for several exceptionally large bells. Short for Uncle Tom in the sense of "black man regarded as too servile to whites" is recorded from
1959. Tom Walker, U.S. Southern colloquial for "the devil" is recorded from 1833. Tom and Jerry is first attested 1828 in many extended senses, originally the names of the two chief characters (Corinthian Tom and Jerry Hawthorn) in Pierce Egan's "Life in London" (1821); the U.S. cat and mouse cartoon characters debuted 1940 in "Puss Gets the Boot." Tom Thumb (1570s) was a miniature man in popular tradition before P.T. Barnum took the name for a dwarf he exhibited.