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photograph of a plate with fried dough on it
figure 1  

 

hush puppies (food). A fried dumpling made out of corn meal, indigenous to the South of the U.S.

Frying dough or batter is an ancient cooking practice dating back at least to the Greeks in Western tradition. Hush puppies add a New World flavor by making the dumplings of corn meal. Though the term appears to be relatively recent, there is no particular agreement about its origin or significance. The common assumption is that it arose sometime in the late 19th century and that for one reason or another fried cornmeal was tossed to dogs to keep them quiet. Maybe this was in the aftermath of the Civil War, when food was scarce.reference 1 Or perhaps it was slave women who, being thrifty, saved the cornmeal left over after dredging catfish for frying, and fried it up too.reference 2 Or it might have been hunters who wanted to quiet their hounds.reference 3

The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins suggests that the puppies were not canines at all, but salamanders known as “water dogs” or “water puppies.” Eating such creatures, even when coated in corn batter and fried, was so shameful that nobody wanted their neighbors to know they were doing so. Hence, you were supposed to be quiet about these pups.reference 4 DARE suggests that hush puppies are also called dog bread.reference 5

1. Mariani, John F. 1983. The Dictionary of American Food and Drink. New Haven: Ticknor & Fields.

2. A History of Soul Food. 1997. Fox Home Entertainment. Accessed Jan 30 2006 from http:// www.foxhome.com/ soulfood/ htmls/ soulfood.html .

3. Stevens, Patricia Bunning. 1998. Rare Bits: Unusual Origins of Popular Recipes. Athens: Ohio University Press.

4. Morris, William, and Mary Morris. 1988. Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins. 2nd ed. New York: Harper & Row.

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illustration of a pair of men's shoes spacer
figure 2

hush puppies. (shoes) This is a proprietary brand name for a model of comfortable shoes.

The mascot is a droopy basset hound. According to the Wolverine World Wide homepage, the “soft, suede casual shoes” were developed in 1957 and named the next year after “a treat Southerners used to quiet their barking dogs.”reference 6 They do not inform the reader as to the reasons why this name was chosen. However, it seems that it was more than just some ad man's bit of genius. Tom Burns Haber, in his exhaustive compilation of canine terms in American Speech, cites several sources for shoes described as “dogs...barkers, puppies, pups...”reference 7 He even goes so far as to say that the sportswriter Tad Dorgan (yes, the same one who is erroneously attributed with coining the term “hot dog” for a sausage sandwich) is credited with calling shoes “dogs.”reference 8

5. Cassidy, Frederic Gomes, and Joan Houston Hall. 1985. Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 107.

 

6. History. 2005. Wolverine World Wide, Inc. Accessed Jan 30 2006 from http:// www.wolverineworldwide.com/ main_history.asp.

7. Haber, Tom Burns. 1965. Canine Terms Applied to Human Beings and Human Events: Part II. American Speech 40 (4): 249.

8. Ibid.

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About the illustrations:

Figure 1 shows some hush puppies procured from Jessos Cajun Seafood, a local restaurant that my family and I frequent.

Figure 2. Pretty literal here, too, though not an image of an actual pair of the well-advertised shoes. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.
cf: sea dog; dogs (feet) Last updated: July 5, 2008
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