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Thread: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

  1. #671
    RESIDENT JEDI MASTER Stargazer's Avatar
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    I was thinking to myself about something on the way to work the other day and my mental wanderings went something like this:

    "Gosh, I haven't done such and such in a coon's age. *mental gasp* Coon's age? Could that be racial? Have I been innocently using a racial term my whole life? "

    I'd heard that term and used it many, many times over the years and (incredibly) it was the first time I'd considered that it could be construed as racist. So I came home and googled and found this explanation about the origins of the phrase. It was a relief, but I think I'm done using it in public. I wouldn't want anyone thinking I was saying something derogatory.

    Dear Straight Dope:

    Where does the expression "coon's age" originate? Is it a racial reference or does it actually pertain to raccoons? --LDziurda

    SDSTAFF Dex replies:

    It actually refers to raccoons. The expression "in a coon's age" dates to the early 1800s, and to the folk belief that raccoons are long-lived. My pal Colibri of the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board says, "References differ, but a wild individual raccoon might live up to 5 to 7 years (average survival being much lower, though, probably 2-3 years), and in captivity they can live up to 14-17 years. So their lifespan is comparable to that of a dog."

    In the early 1800s, it's doubtful if anyone knew how long raccoons actually lived, and two to three years in the wild is not really very long. But raccoon fur is hardy and reasonably durable, which might have given rise to the belief of longevity.

    Many slang terms use the term "coon" to mean raccoon. Their black eye-mask and nocturnal habits suggest anthropomorphic parallels, so we get the term "coon" meaning to steal or pilfer, for instance. The word also was used in the 1830s to mean a rustic, a country-bumpkin. In 1840, the coon was the figurehead of the Whig Party. (Where are the Whigs now when we need them?)

    Unfortunately, many of those negative stereotypes were applied to black people, hence the derogatory term "coon," first used in the 1850s but more commonly heard after 1890. Some etymologists speculate that the term was used because of the raccoon's dark coloring rather than its real or imagined behavior. Whatever the case, the usage is highly offensive today – heck, it was highly offensive back then. For that reason, "in a coon's age" makes many people uncomfortable, notwithstanding its innocent origin. You might try "in a dog's age" or "in donkey's years" (British), which have the same meaning. Or "in a month of Sundays," which avoids animals altogether. Better yet, do us all a favor and come up with an original expression. We haven't had a novel way of saying "for a long time" in a coon's age.

    --SDSTAFF Dex
    Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
    Straight Dope Staff Report: What's the origin of "coon's age"?
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  2. #672
    addicted MamaC's Avatar
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    I think I used to call them thermal underwear long before I called them longjohns, but know I use both. Probably do say thermal underwear more though.

    I always thought coon's age referred to raccoons.

  3. #673
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    Quote Originally Posted by Stargazer;2538320;
    I was thinking to myself about something on the way to work the other day and my mental wanderings went something like this:

    "Gosh, I haven't done such and such in a coon's age. *mental gasp* Coon's age? Could that be racial? Have I been innocently using a racial term my whole life? "

    I'd heard that term and used it many, many times over the years and (incredibly) it was the first time I'd considered that it could be construed as racist. So I came home and googled and found this explanation about the origins of the phrase. It was a relief, but I think I'm done using it in public. I wouldn't want anyone thinking I was saying something derogatory.


    Straight Dope Staff Report: What's the origin of "coon's age"?
    I'm having deja vu here. I was just wondering this myself the other day as I found myself saying that phrase and wondering where it and "sam hill" came from. As in "what in the Sam Hill are you doing?"

    Thanks for the explanation. I can't believe you posted this so soon after I had my own questioning experience with the same phrase.
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  4. #674
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    Quote Originally Posted by myrosiedog;2539333;
    wondering where it and "sam hill" came from. As in "what in the Sam Hill are you doing?"
    All about Sam Hill:
    World Wide Words: Sam Hill
    [Q] From Doug Hickey: “I have often heard in American movies and on television phrases like ‘What in the Sam Hill is going on?’ Or, ‘What the Sam Hill happened here?’ Or, some such exclamation. I have not been able to find the basis of this expression.”

    [A] There is a story sometimes told (for example in Edwin Mitchell’s Encyclopedia of American Politics in 1946) that one Colonel Samuel Hill of Guilford, Connecticut, would often run for political office at some point in the early nineteenth century but always without success. Hence, “to run like Sam Hill” or “go like Sam Hill”. The problem is that nobody has found any trace of this monumentally unsuccessful candidate.

    On the other hand, an article in the New England Magazine in December 1889 entitled Two Centuries and a Half in Guilford Connecticut mentioned that, “Between 1727 and 1752 Mr. Sam. Hill represented Guilford in forty-three out of forty-nine sessions of the Legislature, and when he was gathered to his fathers, his son Nathaniel reigned in his stead” and a footnote queried whether this might be the source of the “popular Connecticut adjuration to ‘Give ‘em Sam Hill’?” So the tale has long legs.

    The expression has been known since the late 1830s. Despite the story, it seems to be no more than a personalised euphemism for “hell”.

  5. #675
    Signed, Sealed, Delivered prhoshay's Avatar
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    Here's a phrase I learned at work: "Drunker than Cooter Brown". I read up on it, and it said that Cooter Brown was a guy that had family that fought for the North and for the South during the Civil War. Old Cooter didn't want to fight for either side and stayed drunk during the entire Civil War.

    Makes sense to me!
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  6. #676
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    Quote Originally Posted by prhoshay;2539828;
    Here's a phrase I learned at work: "Drunker than Cooter Brown". I read up on it, and it said that Cooter Brown was a guy that had family that fought for the North and for the South during the Civil War. Old Cooter didn't want to fight for either side and stayed drunk during the entire Civil War.

    Makes sense to me!
    You guys are giving me good lessons on phrase origins. Especially ones that I use. And for the record, I have been "drunker than cooter brown" before.

    In Florida a Cooter is a turtle and people eat them. Fried cooter is considered a delicacy in some places.
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    I've always heard (and said) "What in the Sam's Hell is going on". Maybe it's the accent but I had no idea that this saying had anything to do with hills. Fun thread!

    As far as cooters go, they are turtles and they are tasty every once in awhile. My grandfather used to take me fishing and tell me "If a Cooter ever gits aholt of your toe he won't let go until it thunders". I have no idea why the thunder came into this, but I was terrified that a Cooter would bite my toe.
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    Quote Originally Posted by doxie;2540918;
    I've always heard (and said) "What in the Sam's Hell is going on". Maybe it's the accent but I had no idea that this saying had anything to do with hills. Fun thread!
    .
    I always knew it was "Sam Hill", but said "Sam Hell", because my best friend said it.

    I too have been 'drunker'n Cooter Brown" a few times myself.
    Also, I always heard the thunder thing about snapping turtles. My Dad used to "get" our fingers in between two of his; he called it the snapping turtle and wouldn't turn loose till we made thundering noises.
    I have found the Truth and it doesn't make sense.

  9. #679
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    Re: Regional Dialects/Odd Sayings

    Quote Originally Posted by doxie;2540918;
    I've always heard (and said) "What in the Sam's Hell is going on". Maybe it's the accent but I had no idea that this saying had anything to do with hills. Fun thread!

    As far as cooters go, they are turtles and they are tasty every once in awhile. My grandfather used to take me fishing and tell me "If a Cooter ever gits aholt of your toe he won't let go until it thunders". I have no idea why the thunder came into this, but I was terrified that a Cooter would bite my toe.
    I used to hear that too and was terrified of the turltes for years as I could imagine it hanging on my toe for days while I waited for a thunder storm.
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