Posted by Smokey Stover on December 15, 2005
In Reply to: The sticks posted by elgin on December 15, 2005
: origin of 'living in the sticks'
The OED says: "g. the sticks: a remote, thinly populated, rural area; the backwoods; hence, in extended (freq. depreciatory) use, any area that is off the beaten track or thought to be provincial or unsophisticated; esp. in phr. in the sticks. orig. U.S.
1905 N. DAVIS Northerner 78 Billy is a cane-brake nigger; he'll take to the sticks like a duck to water when he's scared. 1914 R. LARDNER in Sat. Even. Post 7 Mar. 8/1, I will have to slip you back to the sticks [i.e. the minor baseball leagues]. 1921 Daily Colonist (Victoria, B.C.) 22 Oct. 11/3 Judge Landis..has not yet consigned Babe Ruth to oblivion for..playing in the sticks for exhibition money. 1926 WHITEMAN & MCBRIDE Jazz xiii. 254 They had..all the real New Yorker's prejudice against 'the sticks'... 1958 C. KOCH Boys in Island 101 What can y' expect, way out here in the sticks? You would pick on a dame from back of beyond. 1968 J. LOCK Lady Policeman ix. 79 Where's that? I know, it's somewhere in the sticks...."
The OED is glad to identify transferred uses, but loath to speculate on the specific origin of these uses. I think "the sticks" are the trees of a wooded area, and city boys presumably see far fewer trees than their country cousins. The movement toward tree-lined streets in a well-manicured city is probably much younger than this bit of slang. Nowadays it's a bit problematic whether more trees are to be found in rural areas where people live, or in cities with city parks. Forests tend to be nearly uninhabited these days, as unprotected woods keep falling under the bulldozer. SS