James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Fri Jul 27 01:05:21 UTC 2001

In a message dated 07/26/2001 6:02:06 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
douglas at NB.NET writes:

> I suppose there's a reason for "Clem Cadiddlehopper" rather than "Clive
>  Cadiddlehopper", for "Jethro" rather than "Jeffrey" on "Beverly
>  Hillbillies", for "Li'l Abner" rather than "Li'l Alfred", etc.

>From Mencken's _The American Language_ (1963 abridged edition, page 732)
{referring to circus jargon and slang] 'An outsider is a _clem_ or _gilly_,
and Milburn says that the old cry of "Hey-rube!" raised when local rowdies
attacked a show, is now supplanted by "Clem!"'  It is possible that Red
Skelton, when inventing the character of Clem Cadiddlehopper, was thinking of
the "outsider" usage.  Does anyone have any evidence?

"Jethro" and "Abner" are both BIblical.  "Homer" is of course Classical
(actually pre-Classical) Greek.  All three are recognizable to the average
English-speaker as plausible given names but are not common enough that the
average person is likely to have met any number of people bearing those
names.  All three of them supply humorous effect by the ironic contrast
between the highfaluting intellectual quality of the name the the rusticity
of the hick to whom it is applied.

A similar name is "Reuben" (remember the song "Reuben, Reuben, I've been

Homer Simpson is a city-dweller, but he is a stock character, the hick who is
unaware of his own ignorance.

Are you familiar with a series of children's stories about "Homer Price"?
Homer Price was a child of maybe ten to whom fantastic adventures happened,
all of them narrated in the best tall-tale-teller's unshakably matter-of-fact
tone, as if it were the most natural thing for a ten-year-old to meet a
hundred-foot-tall ragweed or a doughnut machine that could not be turned off.
 (I seem to recall that Homer Price lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, a name
good for a double-take in most of the United States).  Here the name "Homer"
is used as a sort of double-bluff, tagging its owner as a typical
small-hick-town citizen and making it even more of a contrast when this
particular Homer gets into most un-sticks adventures.

The name "Gomer" does not quite fit the above criteria as it is not instantly
recognizable as a plausible given name, but perhaps the writers of "Gomer
Pyle" decided that "Homer" had been overused and "Gomer" made a good

The name "Gomer Pyle" always reminds me of Ernie Pyle, the famous World War
II correspondent.  "Ernie" (sp?) and "Earnest" belong to the Homer-and-Jethro
series (although Oscar Wilde used "Earnest" for a satire on the English upper
classes) and Pyle himself was the correspondent of the common man, both
before and during World War II (he was killed in action in the Okinawa
campaign), but whatever his mannerisms he was hardly an ignorant hick.

            - Jim Landau
              Systems Engineer
              FAA Technical Center (ACT-350/BCI)
              Atlantic City Airport NJ 08405 USA

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