Did "fair to middling" originate with cotton?

Mark Odegard markodegard at HOTMAIL.COM
Thu Nov 8 02:36:06 UTC 2001

Gerald Cohen:
>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"?

My own suspicions suggest this is the old meaning of fair, as with Malory's
'passing fair' maidens, or the 'fair linen' used on an altar. Here, it means
the best quality, the most beautiful.

The modern sense seems to be that of 'good, but not outstanding'.

An interesting question is just where the US Dept of Agriculture got its
beef grades, that of prime, choice, good, and commercial (as I recall from
possibly defective memory).

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