Gimmy Crack Corn

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OHIO.EDU
Mon Aug 30 02:42:10 UTC 2004

At 08:11 PM 8/28/2004 -0400, you wrote:
>>It's most likely "gimcrack corn," where "gimcrack" (as an adjective) means
>>"tastelessly showy, cheap, gawdy." As a noun it means "a showy but useless
>>object, a gewgaw." "Corn" (as in "barleycorn") is short for "corn whiskey."
>>     So the slave is saying that he might have only a cheap liquor with which
>>to drown his sorrows, but "I don't care."  The loss of his master has
>>him so much, that the quality of the whiskey is a very secondary matter.
>Well, no shortage of speculations!
>I am unable to immediately demonstrate that the song or its chorus was or
>was not new ca. 1846. I can't find any trace of "Jim [etc.] crack corn" in
>the usual sources before 1846.
>With respect to the possibility of "give me" > "jimmy"/"jim", is there any
>evidence of such a pronunciation shift (with /dZ/ replacing /g/) for this
>word or other analogous words? I suppose it happened in "margarine", but
>still ....
>Is there any known instance of "gimcrack" applied to whiskey or any
>analogous substance? I made a quick search but found nothing.
>"Corn cracking" referred to grinding corn, and an operation by this name
>would have been expected in the preparation of either animal feed or corn
>liquor, I believe, but also in making cornmeal for human consumption. I
>suppose maybe "corncracker" originally applied to people whose staple food
>was cornmeal or cornbread (as opposed to wheat bread etc.): perhaps in
>certain areas, then, to poor folks or subsistence farmers. HDAS shows
>"corncracker" = "poor white native of [various states]"/"hillbilly"/"redneck".
>"Crack corn" is also slang for "sleep" (in DARE) but I don't know how old
>this is.
>-- Doug Wilson

As it happens, I read a short story by an Irish author a few days ago which
contained a reference to some "gimcrack" renovations made by the main
characters.  The implied meaning was clearly that they were
cheap-looking.  So "gimcrack corn" = "cheap corn whiskey" makes sense to
me.  But I wonder if the singer/narrator slave would have been "saddened"
by the death of his master, bitten fatally, apparently, by a blue-tail
fly.  When we sang this as kids (did you all learn these Dixie songs in
your northern schools too?), we feigned sadness and tears at "He died and
the jury wondered why" and then whooped with joy into the line "a victim of
the blue-tail fly" and the final chorus of "Gim(my)-crack corn and I don't
care, my master's [or massa's?] gone away."  In fact, the lyrics referenced
by Doug in another note suggest that the slave wasn't particularly careful
about brushing away the flies while his master slept. . . .

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