weird

Hootenany

Well, my heart’s just broken. A word that sounds like it should have traveled on the tongues of the Scotch-Irish immigrants who settled in KY and TN is undoubtedly a Midwest word.

If’n you’ve never heard the word before, today it’s used for a wild party that is thrown together. It has an element of not being exactly planned, where one and all might “raise a ruckus” through hootin’ and hollerin’ all night long.

Here’s a timeline, although no one is quite sure when the word came into use regionally:

1906 – The earliest written use was in a historical novel by Richard T. Wiley set in the 1790’s. The book, Slim Greene: A Narrative of the Whiskey Insurrection, used all sorts of colorful language that is unclear if these are words he thought  people used in the 1790’s, or if he thought these words were ridiculous and that’s what people sounded like back then. All signs point to “hootenany” being a “thing” that you don’t really know the word for.

Some other fun examples of “a thing” he uses are:

  • Conniplicon
  • Majigger
  • Kerdoodlement

“When I got thar,” he said, “she wuz lookin’ hotter’n her oven, an’ wuz a-shakin’ that conniplicon at the lummix, an’—”
“Shaking what?” interrupted Colonel Bayard.
“That hootenanny that she shovels her bread with — that long-handled majigger, you know.”
“Oh, the oven-peel?” asked the Colonel, as if a light had just dawned on him.
“Yes, I guess that’s what they call it. I’ve allus been ust to Dutch-oven bakin’, an’ don’t know much abaout these new-fangled kerdoodlements.”

1940 – A man from Indiana by the name of Terry Pettis moved to Seattle and was working on a fundraiser for the Democratic convention. They needed a name for a party and Terry suggested a name from from home, “hootenany.” Wingding was also in the running.

1941 – The party was a hit and became an annual event. Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie got invited to play the Second Annual event with their band the Almanac Singers. After the party, they brought the word around on tour with them all the way home to New York City where they began to call their parties “hootenanies.”

1946 – Over the next five years, Guthrie’s career explodes. In an interview with Time Magazine the interviewer asked where he got the word “hootenany.” Loving a good tall tale, Guthrie replied with an outright lie.

He said, “We was playin’ for the Lumber Workers’ Union. We was singin’ around in the shingle mills. There was a lady out West out there in the lumber camp and her name was Annie and so every time they’d have a songfest Annie would outshout all of them. So people got to call her Hootin’ Annie but the name got spread all over and so out there when they are going to have a shindig they call it Hootenanny.”

And that, according to Time Magazine, is when hootenannies began.

To hear the full, hilarious, podcast Lexicon Valley put together on the origins of hootenany, click here.

 

 

 

 

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The Legend of Sugar Flat Road

When I was a child, my family moved from Houston, Texas to a farm just east of Lebanon, TN.  It was culture shock in reverse; as big city gal whose family wore black clothing, and our favorite foods were unpronounceable to the new neighbors (ke-suh-dee-ya we’d say, only to be corrected that that in fact, it was ke-suh-dil-luh), I was always kind of an outcast.  It allowed me to sit back and watch things though, and I was fascinated by one of my new classmates; Sterling Buster.

In my memory, Sterling Buster was the size of a pro wrestler at the age of six.  His sheer height could block the sun, and I would watch him in reverence.  At the time, Lebanon had a quiet, high-brow antiques circuit, and the very finest of them was at Cuz’s Antiques on the Lebanon Square.  When I found out that Sterling’s family owned Cuz’s, I couldn’t have been more pleased.  Cuz’s was the kind of place where you would walk in and see a stuffed tiger lunging toward a mounted elephant head, with deep red velvet Victorian sofas and Victrolas as the audience.  It had the most distinct smell of warm dust, and when the afternoon sun would shine through the enormous storefront windows, you could see all the tiny particles dancing through the air.

My mom collected old compacts so each week after church we made the antiques rounds on the square.  My life changed on one Sunday in 1996 when I first saw The Head at Cuz’s, and heard about the Legend of Sugar Flat Road.

legend

 

According to Legend, in 1989 two guys were out driving on Sugar Flat Road off Trousdale Ferry, a place that is to this day dominated by farms and nothingness, when they hit something.  To their surprise, they had run over what appeared to be a yeti.  They had the head taxidermied and Cuz’s ended up with it a few years after.  It was on display in the format that you see above with the handwritten sign saying, “Is this an alien,” that invites you to draw your own conclusion on what the fur covered head could be.

Sadly, Cuz’s closed it’s doors last year, but the mysterious Legend of Sugar Flat Road lives on.  The Head was auctioned and moved to Chattanooga, where it was displayed in a small place called the Curiosity Shoppe until last year.  It’s not clear where the head is now, but it has been replaced by a hologram at the Curiosity Shoppe!