Myth # 134: Fried cornmeal bits were thrown to dogs to keep them quiet, hence the name Hush Puppies.

hushpuppies

Rhonda Florian wrote, “I have a question about hush puppies. I’m sure you have heard the tale that the slaves threw small pieces of cornbread to the dogs to quiet them and that’s how they became known as hush puppies. I also heard that soldiers (not sure which side) threw them to Confederate dogs to quiet them. Since I am doing a great deal of Civil War living history now, I want to be certain that I am not repeating any history myths. I want to do the best job I can, and history myths just don’t cut it with me.” 

Rhonda Florian at work

Rhonda Florian at work

Bless you, Rhonda! You are a museum director’s dream come true. 

Hush puppies are bits of fried corn meal. Many dictionaries will define this but none I could find offered any etymological information. Even the venerable OED is silent on this term. I checked several slang dictionaries — no luck. The best I could find was in the American Heritage Dictionary, which defined the term and then used the words “perhaps from” in relating the story about dogs. 

I believe this is not a myth. I think the playful term has its origin in the practice of tossing scraps to dogs. Its origins are Southern, not because Northerners didn’t throw scraps to their dogs, but because fried cornmeal is a Southern staple, like spoonbread and grits. Whether these cornbread bits were called hush puppies during the Civil War, I do not know. Perhaps someone out there has seen a period reference to them in a letter or diary??? That would go a long way toward easing your conscience about using the term and telling the story. I think that you can tell the supposed origins as long as you cover yourself by using the term “probably” or “perhaps,” as the American Heritage Dictionary did. 

About these ads

7 Responses to Myth # 134: Fried cornmeal bits were thrown to dogs to keep them quiet, hence the name Hush Puppies.

  1. Joanne G Miley says:

    Grammarian here.last line should read..AS the American Heritage did, not like. 8-)

    Mommy

  2. Thank heavens! From the title I was afraid you were going to debunk this one!

    One teensy quibble: Would it not have been some kind of corn meal mush or batter that is fried, not simply corn meal, which doesn’t hang together very well by itself?

    Keep up the good work.

  3. R M Bragg says:

    For whatever it may be worth, the Online Etymological Dictionary gives the date of the first attested use as 1899 here: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?l=h&p=32&allowed_in_frame=0

  4. Mary Miley says:

    Interesting. That would suggest that Rhonda shouldn’t use the term in her Civil War-era presentations.

  5. Mike Henry says:

    In The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms
    by Robert Hendrickson, he cites a similar tale but says it originated with soldiers in World War I instead of the Civil War.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,324 other followers

%d bloggers like this: