OK, I understand “babe”, “dame”, “skirt” and maybe even “chick”.

But how did “broad” come to mean a woman? Broad as in hip structure? Broad as in range of emotions they can go through in thrity seconds? What gives?

Maybe it’s not ‘broad’ but ‘braed’, as in wearing a bra.

My understanding of the origin of the term, which is either a pretty foggy memory or a WAG masquerading as one, is that, as a rule, men have narrower hips than women, who require a wider pelvic angle and more lower-abdominal room generally due to childbearing. (Whether or not they actually bear children, they are equipped to do so.) This led to the Marine Corps equivalent to WACs, WAVEs, etc., being sardonically referred to as BAMs, acronymic for “broad a**ed Marines.” The rest, of course, is herstory.

Webster’s is no help in this case

An expansion of a river?

You don’t go to Webster for something like this. You go to Partridge*:

2. A girl, esp. one readily available: Can.; adopted, ca 1925 ex U.S. Tempest 1950: . . . “A ‘broad’ is a girl or woman of easy virtue who does not take money.”
3. Backside . . . perhaps from “Broad in the Beam.”

*Partridge’s Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.

WAG alert… I think it’s just because if you look at a profile of a man next to a woman, who looks more “broad”?

In the broad sense of the word, naturally…

Brian O’Neill
CMC International Records

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Jackson & Hellyer Vocab. Criminal Slang, 1914
Broad A female confederate; a female companion; a woman of loose morals

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

Er, Chuck and JWK – the definition does not answer the question of the derivation.

As others have opined, I always thought it referred to women’s generally broader butts.

Now, how about “chippie”? A “semi-professional prostitute”? Hmmmm …

From the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins:

**broad **simply a variant spelling of “bawd,” a word that goes back to before Shakespeare’s time. It referred to a woman who – to use a euphemism – ran a house of ill repute, sometimes called a bawdy house. Oscar Hammerstein lent a certain respectability to broad when he wrote the lyric . . . about the broad who was “broad where a broad should be broad.”

Morris overlooks “chippie,” but Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable comes to the rescue: "A knee-length frock worn in the red light district of New Orleans, hence the U.S. phrase for a prostitute; can be used as a phrase of back-handed affection, as with the blues singer Bertha “Chippie” Hill. [Again the link between music and whorehouses; see any mention of “Storyville” in any published history of jazz. TD]

your humble TubaDiva/SDStaffDiv
for the Straight Dope

I don’t have any information about derivation. But a terminus ad quem can at least eliminate some false theories.

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams