"Show-me" State

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Tue May 4 01:43:46 UTC 1999

   I am grateful for Grant Barrett's  May 3  message drawing attention to a
recent newspaper article on the origin of the name "Show-me State."
However, the newspaper writer was unaware of the research that Barry Popik
and I have done on this term and was therefore entirely in error in his

    The journalist says that Vandiver gave his speech in 1899.  In fact,
though, Barry Popik located the exact date of the speech  (Jan. 27, 1900)
and also zeroed in on the Transmississippi Exposition at Omaha Nebraska
(1898), where the Kansas City delegation showed up in a gung-ho spirit
wearing badges with the motto: "You Will Have To Show Me."

    There are also other attestations of the show-me expression in
1898---two years prior to Vandiver's  speech in which he used  that
expression.   And the journalist missed the whole part of the "Show-me"
story which indicates that the expression probably arose as an insult in
Leadville, Colorado during an 1896  mining strike there.  (Originally:
"He's from Missouri, you've got to show him," in reference to the
unfamiliarity of the Missouri strikebreakers with the somewhat different
mining techniques  used in Colorado).    ------  Anyone interested in more
detail on the subject may consult the following:
1) Popik, Barry and Gerald Cohen 1998. " Origin of  'I'm From Missouri,
You've Got To Show Me'."
    _Proceedings  of the 19th International Conference of Onomastic
Sciences, held at
   Aberdeen, Scotland, August 4-11, 1996.  edited by W.F.H. Nicolaisen,
vol. 2, pp.285-289.

2) Popik, Barry and Gerald Cohen 1997.   "'I'm From Missouri, You'll Have
To Show Me,' Part 7." in:
_Comments on Etymology_  (edited by Gerald Cohen), vol. 27, No. 2, Nov.
1997, 22 pp. ---This issue contains the information about the date of
Vandiver's speech and the 1898 Transmississippi Exposition of 1898.  Copies
of _Comments on Etymology_ are available from the NYPL (42nd Street) and
the library of the University of Missouri-Rolla (among other places).
---The list of references includes lparts 1-6 of the  _Comments on
Etymology_ "Show-me" treatments.

----Gerald Cohen

 Date:         Mon, 3 May 1999 12:39:18 -0400
>Reply-To: Grant Barrett <gbarrett at americandialect.org>
>Sender: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at UGA.CC.UGA.EDU>
>From: Grant Barrett <gbarrett at americandialect.org>
>Subject:      Show-Me State
>For the record, because this comes up now and again, the Pittsburgh
>Post-Gazzette tells the story of how Missouri became the "Show-Me State." As
>Donald Lance will tell you, there is still a Vandiver (boulevard, avenue,
>street, I can't remember) in Columbia, Mo.
>>>From http://www.post-gazette.com:80/magazine/19990503centennial1.asp
>Centennial flashback: 1899 'show me' speech showed off Missouri to nation
>Monday, May 03, 1999
>By Milan Simonich, Post-Gazette Staff Writer
>Old-time Congressman William Duncan Vandiver ought to be the patron saint
>of the sound bite. Ý
>Vandiver campaigned in an era without microphones or ratings points, but
>he turned a phrase that was so good it still makes politicians and media
>spin doctors jealous.
>A native of Columbia, Mo., Vandiver made his mark in an 1899 speech
>before a naval banquet in Philadelphia.
>"I come from a state," he said, "that raises corn and cotton and
>cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor
>satisfies me.
>I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."
>Grammar teachers might have scolded Vandiver for using the needless word
>"got," but he scored with everybody else.
>Missouri was transformed in the press from a Western outpost to a place
>populated by stubborn, independent thinkers. In three stout sentences, the
>congressman had created "the show me state."
>The precise date of his speech has been lost. Neither the Missouri state
>government nor its university historians can place it. But after 100
>years, "show me state" is so much a part of Americana that it still appears on
>Missouri license plates.

gcohen at umr.edu

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