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Hey, Rube!

Posted by R. Berg on September 18, 2001

In Reply to: Geek and Rube posted by Bob on September 18, 2001

: : : Trying to find the source of what I believe to circus terms. Geek and "Hey Rube"
: : : Any help would be appreciated.
: : : Thank you

: : GEEK "The carnival 'wild man,' usually an alcoholic, who bit off the heads of chickens; any person who has sunk to the lowest depths of degradation or who is odd and ridiculous. The word is a variation on the English word 'geck' for a fool, which dates back to the 16th century and was used by Shakespeare among other great writers." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

: : RUBE - "Rube (from 'Rustic Reuben'), 'hick' (a pet name for Richard) and 'hayseed' are 19th century Americanisms." From Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). A second source says, "In America we also called a country bumpkin a 'Rustic Reuben' around 1800, shortened it to 'Reuben' by the 1840s, and to 'Rube' by the 1880s." From I Hear America Talking: An Illustrated History of American Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976).
: :
: There is a "rube" archetype, firmly established in the 19th C., a protrayal of a country bumpkin in overalls and straw hat, apparently a fool but who (in a long-honored American anti-intellectual tradition) outwits the City Slicker and turns the tables on him. A representative example of the genre is "Our American Cousin," the play Lincoln was watching in Ford's Theatre the night he was shot. But beyond this defiinition of Rube, circus people used "Hey, Rube" as a kind of distress signal, meaning "I'm having a problem (with an unruly customer, for example) and come help." Now why this phrase became this warning, I haven't a clue. Any carny-historians out there?

The Dict. of Amer. Slang says of "Hey, Rube!" as "a call for help, or a rallying call by circus people in a fight with, or trouble with, irate townspeople" that "there is some doubt if the term was ever used, certain old-time circus people claiming it is synthetic. In any case, widely used in books and movies about the circus. Definitely no circus use since c1930, perhaps because it was never used, perhaps because it was then generally understood by everyone. The term 'Clem' has seen wide use for this meaning."

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