Did "fair to middling" originate with cotton?

Gerald Cohen gcohen at UMR.EDU
Thu Nov 8 02:17:27 UTC 2001

   First, my thanks for the brainstorming replies on 1913 "snail a
column of dope." Here now is another request.

     A while back there was an ads-l discussion on "fair to middling,"
with attribution of the expression to the grades of cotton: good,
middling, fair, poor.

   But _DARE_ makes no mention of cotton, attributing the expression
to grades of livestock. And OED2 speaks only in general commercial
term, saying of "middling": "Comm. Used as a designation for the
second of three grades of goods" and including an example of "fair to
middling" here (plus several examples under "fair")

     Two questions now come to mind:

1) Did "fair to middling" originate specifically with reference to
cotton? Did it perhaps originate with reference to cattle? Or did it
arise with reference to commercial goods in general?

2) Does the ranking of cattle include both "fair" and "middling"?

    Any guidance or other help would be much appreciated.

--Gerald Cohen

More information about the Ads-l mailing list