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Coon Phrase

Posted by ESC on September 11, 2000

In Reply to: Coon Phrase posted by --- on September 11, 2000

: I heard this phrase today and it took me for a loop because it had no relationship to the conversation at hand nor did it serve a purpose in the conversation:

: "I'm as happy as a coon eating grapes"

: Unlike some people involved in the conversation, I didn't laugh...I'm not one to laugh or agree to a phrase unless I'm clear of its meaning. Infact, for some reason, I felt embarrassed for the person using it because it just felt "unright" as the person said it with a big smile and grin.

: Thinking "coon" was short for racoon...I didn't see how the phrase related had a connection to the conversation. Having lived in the Midwest while in college, I'v heard "coon" used before....I won't go into the brought blushing faces to some who were sitting in the persence of a culturally mixed group.
: I asked a family member who is a Senior Citizen. He said he had heard of the expression used many times in the south where he's from and it was always made in reference with degragotory meaning. (The latter of the Webster Dictionary meaning).

: I looked it up in the Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
: 1. racoon [Collog.] 2. A Negro; vulgar term of prejudice and contempt. [Slang]

: Okay, so if I greeted you with, "Hi, how are you"?
: What would be the meaning of greeting me with
: "I'm as happy as a coon eating grapes" .

: My little sister said she wouldn't be surprise if it orginally went like "I'm as happy as a coon eating watermelon". She feels it's a "redneck" slang.
: (Is the term redneck offensive...I don't want to be found doing something that belittles others).

: Now, to me, none of them seem the logic answer or response to "Hi, how are you"? A racoon eating grapes--do they eat grapes...if they do why are they happy about it? Or an African-American (Negro as the dictionary printed it) eating grapes...why would they be happy eating grapes as opposed to anyone else eating grapes?

: Please E-mail privately if you don't want to answer on the board due to juveniles reading this site...although juveniles heard it in the conversation today.

: I would like to learn more about us "humans" each day of my life so any help on this phrase would be appreciated.

: My school's E-mail address is: [email protected]

: Thankyou!

"Redneck" can be offensive depending who says it and how it is said.

I'll see if I can find the phrase you mentioned in any of my Southern sayings books. I think it refers to a raccoon eating grapes. Here's what I wrote about another "coon" expression. Someone asked if "in a coon's age" is a racial insult. My answer was no. But since people today don't seemed to be familiar with the use of "coon" for raccoon, to avoid misunderstandings, I'd advise dropping said phrases from conversation.

IN A COON'S AGE - As I said before, this expression is common among my people in the mountains of southern West Virginia. This area did not have a large slave population. Think pioneer-tromping-through- the-woods Daniel and Rebecca Boone people. Not Scarlet O'Hara and Rhett Butler on a plantation. We didn't have slaves, we had big families. Our culture was based on farming and hunting. People had large families to share in the work. Raccoons were and are common in the area. And they are not shy creatures. So there's plenty of opportunity to observe their behavior. Naturally coons have become part of the language.

"a coon's age - Meaning 'a very long time,' a coon's age is an Americanism recorded in 1843 and probably related to the old English expression 'in a crow's age,' meaning the same. The American term is an improvement, if only because the raccoon usually lives longer -- up to 13 years in the wild - than the crow." From the "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997), Page 168.

Wild raccoons are not afraid of people and will come around if you feed them. Trying to pet them, however, is not recommended. They will bite. In recent years my parents had a frequent raccoon visitor. I'm sure my pioneer ancestors amused themselves by feeding a raccoon or two. So a family would have an opportunity to note the life-span of a coon.

And people hunted raccoons. So they had a chance to observe the animal going quickly up a tree to get away from dogs. Thus definition No. 2 in this entry:

" 'coon or coon: 1. N. raccoon (Procyon lotor.) 'coon skins.2. v.t. to steal. 'I had to coon an ace of hearts'.3. v.i., to creep like a coon, clinging close. 'I cooned acrost on a log." From "Smoky Mountain Voices: A Lexicon of Southern Appalachian Speech" by Harold F. Farwell, Jr., and J. Karl Nicholas, editors. (The University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, Ky., 1993), Page 45. This book is based on a lifetime of work by Horace Kephart among the people who lived in or near the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina.

Now, as I said before, "coon" came to mean a whole different thing later on in other parts of the country. The saying was recorded in 1843 (but I am sure it was in use decades earlier) but "coon" didn't become a term for black people until 20 years later. Here's an entry on that:

"coon was orignally a short form for raccoon in 1741.then by 1832 meant a frontier rustic, and by 1840 a Whig. The 1834 song 'Zip Coon' (better know today as 'Turkey in the Straw') didn't refer specifically to either a White or a Black and the 'coon songs' of the 1840s and 50s were Whig political songs. By 1862, however, coon had come to mean a Black and this use was made very common by the popular 1896 song 'All Coons Look Alice to Me,' written by Ernest Hogan, a Black who didn't consider the word derogatory at the time." From "I Hear America Talking" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Von Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York, 1976), Page 54. I rest my case.