The expression was introduced to English by American military personnel serving in the Philippines during the early years of the 20th century. It derives from the Tagalog word "bundok", meaning "mountain". According to military historian Paul Kramer, the term had attached to it "connotations of bewilderment and confusion", due to the guerrilla warfare in which the soldiers were engaged.
"Bundok" as originally used by Filipinos is a colloquialism referring to rural areas inland which are usually mountainous and difficult to access (most major Filipino cities and settlements are located near the coastline). Other equivalent terms used are the Spanish-derived "probinsya" ('province') and the Cebuano "bukid" ('mountain'). When used generally, the term refers to a rustic or uncivilized area. When referring to people (Tagalog "taga-bundok"/"probinsyano", Cebuano "taga-bukid" – literally 'someone who comes from the mountains/provinces'), it acquires a derogatory connotation referring to the stereotype of country people being unsophisticated, ignorant, uncultured, illiterate, or naive.
The term has evolved into American slang used to refer to the countryside or any implicitly isolated rural/wilderness area, regardless of topography or vegetation. Similar slang or colloquial words are "the sticks", "the wops", "the backblocks", or "Woop Woop" in Australia and New Zealand, "bundu" in South Africa, and "out in the tules" in California. The diminutive "the boonies" can be heard in films about the Vietnam War such as Brian De Palma's Casualties of War. It is used by American military personnel to designate rural areas of Vietnam. Many[who?] from the urban East Coast of the United States have presumed the word to come from "boon docks," a description, not used by mariners, to describe floating docks more common in remote fishing villages than in busier ports.
"Down in the Boondocks" is a song written and produced by Joe South and sung by Billy Joe Royal. It was a hit in 1965. It tells the story of a young man who laments that people put him down because he was born in the boondocks. He is in love with the boss man's daughter and vows to work slavishly until, one day, he can "move from this old shack" and fit in her society. Throughout the song, he asks the "Lord [to] have mercy on the boy from down in the boondocks".
- Williams, Edwin B., ed. (September 1991). The Scribner-Bantam English Dictionary (Revised ed.). Bantam Books. p. 105. ISBN 0-553-26496-6.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Clay, Grady (1998). "Boondocks". Real Places. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 180–181. ISBN 0-226-10949-6.
- Kramer, Paul (2006). The Blood of Government. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. pp. 33–34. ISBN 0-8078-5653-3.
- Heller, Louis (1984). "boondocks". The Private Lives of English Words. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. p. 20. ISBN 0-7102-0006-4.
- "What A English" by Jon Joaquin.[dead link]
- Competence Matters: the Peter Principle Strikes the Philippines Over and Over