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The meaning and origin of the expression: Hush puppies

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Hush puppies

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Meaning

A type of suede shoes. Also, in the USA, a form of corn-bread fritter.

Origin

Hush Puppies in the culinary sense are balls of fried seasoned cornbread. They have been popular in the southern states of the USA, often eaten with fried fish, and possibly known since the 18th century. The first reference to the term in print come quite late, but that's not entirely surprising as few people would have had any reason to write the name down.

In Dialect Notes, 1918: "Hushpuppy, a sort of bread prepared very quickly and without salt."

By 1947 the US magazine This Week had printed what amounts to a basic recipe: "What's a hush puppy? You mean you don't know that Southern fried bread like a miniature corn pone - but glorified? It's made of the white cornmeal of the South, smooth and fine as face powder."

There are many stories about the origin of the term. None of these come complete with any supporting evidence so, unlike the early hushpuppies themselves, have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Two of the most commonly repeated stories are:

If Confederate soldiers detected Yankee soldiers approaching, they would quieten their barking dogs by throwing them the fried cornmeal balls.

In the southern USA, salamanders were called "water dogs" or "water puppies". These were eaten as part of poor people's diet - deep-fried with cornmeal. They were given the name hush puppies as eating such humble food wasn't something people wanted to discuss.

hush-puppiesHush Puppy shoes were produced by the US shoe company Wolverine World Wide from 1958 onward. The company had developed a method of tanning pigskin and were looking for an outlet for the soft pigskin suede. It is reported that the name was coined by Jim Muir, the company's Sales Manager. He noticed that a friend's dogs were quietened by giving them corn hush puppies and, knowing that aching feet were called barking dogs, thought that 'Hush Puppies' would be a good name for the shoes. The 'barking dogs' phrase was well-known in the USA by 1958, so the story is plausible at least, although I can only report it here as hearsay.

The shoes were heavily marketed from 1958, as this example from the Oakland Tribune that year shows.

Ironically, the shoes themselves have crepe soles that often squeak loudly on hard flooring.