Word Origin & History
mid-12c., boie "servant, commoner, knave, boy," possibly from O.Fr. embuie "one fettered," from V.L. *imboiare, from L. boia "leg iron, yoke, leather collar," from Gk. boeiai dorai "ox hides." But it also appears to be identical with E.Fris. boi "young gentleman," and perhaps with Du. boef "knave,"
from M.Du. boeve, perhaps from M.L.G. buobe. This suggests a gradational relationship to babe
. Used slightingly of young men in M.E.; meaning "male negro slave or Asian personal servant of any age" attested from c.1600. (Words for "boy" double as "servant, attendant" across the I.E. map -- e.g. It. ragazzo, Fr. garçon, M.E. knave, O.C.S. otroku -- and often it is difficult to say which meaning came first.) Amer.Eng. expression oh, boy attested from 1917.