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

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

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. 


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.

  1. 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:

  2. Mary Miley says:

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

  3. 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.



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

  1. profrap says:

    These folk etymologies are all very charming. But these puppes are named by their resemblance to small feet (diminutive of dogs=feet); in Mississippi the same food is known as “Delta Dogs” — and hush is a variant of “mush.”

  2. Jay Templin says:

    I had always heard that it came from fish camps on the James River after the war when commercial sturgeon fishing was still a thing.

  3. L Weems says:

    They where made of a corn meal mush made by slaves who seasoned them as food that could be taken to the field. They where also given to dogs to hush them up. If a slave had a dog which there where not to have to try and find food. It was rare for a master to allow a dog unless it was a runt who looked almost dead. It was a way to keep the dog full and quite. And allowed enslaved people a bit more food. Most escapees would take the dogs with them if possible as a diversion tactic if they could to survive as they ran. Even today black people in the south refer to grown dogs as puppies. It was to hush the puppy . It was shortened to hush puppy. Union troops used them to silence Confederate dogs for sneak attacks. Also a white entrepreneur decided to take that subsistence food and market it.

    How do I know this my Great grand mother lived long enough to tell her great grand children about it. She had been a slave and her youngest child was born 2 Yeats after slavery was over. She was Black and Native and 7 of her 9 children where born slaves. The where about of only 4 where known.

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