Mountain Oysters (1862)

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri May 7 02:33:20 UTC 2004

At 10:10 PM -0400 5/6/04, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>    I've been re-checking the progress of Colorado's Historic Newspaper
>>Collection, and I'm proud to say that I now discovered that I have better
>>     10 May 1862, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS WEEKLY (Denver), pg. 4:
>>    The folks boarding at some of our "first-class hotels," these later days
>>are growing very fastidious in their choice of "grub."  Two or three years
>>they thought they were "in luck" to run against a board with bread and beans,
>>and exclaimed "bully!"  Yesterday a gentleman at a dinner table complacently
>>ordered the waiter to fetch him "some soused eels' feet and a dozen mountain
>IMHO, this passage does not seem to exemplify what I presume is the lexical
>item in question, i.e., "mountain oysters" = "[animals'] testicles" or so.
>I believe "mountain oysters" in this 1862 piece means about the same as
>"eels' feet", i.e., = "nonexistent items", a humorous exaggeration of "very
>rare viands" or so.
>I suppose both "mountain oysters" and "prairie oysters" arose from this
>sort of humorous exaggeration. The oysters harvested in the mountains and
>prairies were rare delicacies indeed.
It might (or might not) also be worth mentioning that besides
referring to sheep's/calves' testicles and, arguably here, to nothing
at all (as in the "ad calendas graecas" type of locution), mountain
and prairie oysters are sometimes raw eggs yolks doused with
worcestershire and/or hot sauce and swallowed whole.  Presumably the
taste and texture of these, like those of the testicles, are
reminiscent of oysters (with similar seasonings).  I wouldn't know,
not having grown up in the mountains or on the prairie...

--Larry, a sea oyster man himself

More information about the Ads-l mailing list