"I'm From Missouri"--1897; Congratulations to Barry Popik

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Nov 28 20:36:39 UTC 2002

>At 10:26 AM -0500 11/28/02, Bapopik at AOL.COM wrote:
>    I'll type the article in full that I found Monday in the Library of
>Congress, using WASHINGTON POST full text.
>    It is a year earlier than the 1898 Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha,
>which had the slogan on buttons.  It's also a year earlier than the song (by
>NY songwriters).


     Congratulations to Barry for his discovery of the 1897 attestations of
"I'm from Missouri, you've got to show me." He had already
conclusively disproved the frequently-given etymology of the
expression deriving from a speech given ca. 1900 by Missouri
congressman Willard Vandiver at a Philadelphia banquet; Vandiver was
there in connection with a visit by a congressional delegation to the
city's naval yard.

     The exact date of that banquet speech hadn't been found until
Barry discovered it: January 27, 1900.  Meanwhile, Barry spotted
several pre-1900 attestations of the expression, so any chance of
Vandiver originating the expression is eliminated. At most, Vandiver
helped popularize it.

     It is significant that the 1897 newspaper article with the
"show-me" expression involves a mine.  The likeliest story about the
origin of the expression concerns an 1896 strike of miners in
Leadville, Colorado, for which Missouri miners were brought in as
strikebreakers. The mining techniques were a bit different in
Colorado from those in (Southwest) Missouri, and the Missouri miners
sometimes had to be shown the techniques.  "He's from Missouri,
you've got to show him" therefore began in reference to this need to
be shown, and it quickly spread above-ground as an insult to the
Missourians, given the hatred directed at them for their
strike-breaking.  When the expression reached Missouri, Missourians
gave it their own spin (tough-minded skepticism), although it
retained overtones of an insult for at least some time.

     Also, Barry is correct that the "show-me" material we've already
printed in scattered fashion should be compiled and published.  I'll
see what I can do about this. Meanwhile, two selected references for
this topic are:

1) Barry Popik and Gerald Cohen: "More on 'I'm From Missouri, You've
Got To Show Me':  William Vandiver's Jan. 27, 1900 Speech in
Philadelphia And Use Of The Expression in Omaha, 1898," in _Studies
in Slang, part VI_ (edited by Gerald Leonard Cohen and Barry A.
Popik, (= Forum Anglicum, vol. 24), Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang
Verlag, 1999; pp.105-128.

2) Barry Popik and Gerald Cohen: "Story Behind Missouri's Nickname 'The Show-Me
State'." _Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Onomastic
Sciences_, held at Aberdeen, Scotland, August 4-11, 1996, edited by
W.F.H. Nicolaisen, vol. 2, pp. 285-289.

Gerald Cohen
University of Missouri

More information about the Ads-l mailing list