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Cooter Brown - Man or Myth

Posted by ESC on April 17, 2003

In Reply to: Cooter Brown - Man or Myth posted by ESC on April 17, 2003

: : : I am a resident of the upstate of South Carolina, often referred to as the foothills or piedmont. The area around Spartanburg County, SC and Polk and Rutherford Counties of NC has a long standing tradition of using the term, "Drunker than Cooter Brown". I am working to explore my hunch that Cooter Brown and the expression probably lived in this area around the time that the Piedmont Blues style of music evolved in the 1930's through 50's. I have friends from the NC counties who used the term as children in the 60's, and my wife from Spartanburg County used the term in the 60's as well. I was raised in Pickens County, SC (also in the Piedmont) where I never heard the term used except by those people hailing from the Polk, Rutherford and Spartanburg counties. My guess is that someone like Little Pink Anderson probably sang about Cooter and the term and legend grew from there. I will be researching and will post my findings. Anyone?

: : Please post your findings. I'd love to know more. I've found the expression in a couple of reference books but I don't believe an origin was listed. I'm away from my files right now but will look that up and post later today. The first time I heard the expression it was used by a character played by Dolly Parton. The movie was Best Little W****house, I think.

: "drunk as Cooter Brown; drunker than Cooter Brown -- Very drunk indeed. Who the proverbial Cooter Brown is no one seems to know, but this may have originally been a black expression from the Carolinas. 'In Texas we'd call him drunker than Cooter Brown.'" From "Whistlin' Dixie: A Dictionary of Southern Expressions" by Robert Hendrickson (Pocket Books, New York, 1993).

Another reference says, in part:

DRUNK AS COOTER BROWN - adj. phrase. Also "drunk as Cooter, ~ Cooty Brown. Chiefly South. Very intoxicated. "This is a Black expression very familiar to the informant, who is from New Jersey. She says it is current and, so far as she knows, it 'came up with the Blacks from the Carolinas.' She thinks it probably derives from some proverbial drunkard." From "Dictionary of American Regional English," Volume 1 by Frederic G. Cassidy (1985, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, England). Page 769-770.

It also has a couple of long entries for the word "cooter."