[Ads-l] Total silence - "hear a frog piss on cotton"

Page, Ryan Ryan.Page at AMERICO.COM
Wed Sep 12 16:26:58 UTC 2018

I bet someone substituted a frog for a mouse since people are more used to frogs peeing than mice. Whenever you pick up a frog, the first thing it does is pee in your hand. Just a thought.

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of ADSGarson O'Toole
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2018 11:09 AM
Subject: Re: Total silence - "hear a frog piss on cotton"

There's some evidence that instances of the phrase were employed by Charlie Parker, Melvin Van Peebles, and Amarillo Slim.

Below is the earliest instance I found during a quick search.
There is a snippet match in a 1968 edition (which must be verified with hardcopy).
There is also a match in a 2009 reprint edition that is visible via Google Preview.

Title: Listen to the Lambs
Author: Johnny Otis
Quote Page 172 in 1968 edition according to Google Snippet Quote Page 158 in 2009 edition via Google Preview
Publisher: 2009 edition from University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis
Publisher: 1968 edition from W. W. Norton & Company, New York

[Begin excerpt]
I introduced her to Chick, and John Truehart got his guitar. The cats were making a hell of a racket with their card game, but by the time Ella got through three or four bars of the old song 'Judy,' you could hear a mouse pissin' on cotton!"

I plopped an empty pint of I. W. Harper into the can.
[End excerpt]


On Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 9:09 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
> Google Books has variants with "mouse," "ant," "cat," and "flea," but "rat"
> shows up most frequently, esp. in jazz contexts. Examples:
> ---
> John Chilton, _Billie's Blues: A Survey of Billie Holiday's Career, 
> 1933-1959_, 1975 Everyone thought she wouldn't be at work because of 
> her conduct, but she never missed one night, she packed that little 
> club every night and when she sang it was so quiet you could literally 
> hear a rat pissing on cotton.
> https://books.google.com/books?id=3ImfAAAAMAAJ
> ---
> Eric Sackheim, _Out of a Grey Notebook: Words I Found for My 
> Children_, 1976 When Hamp took his solos you could hear rats piss on cotton.
> https://books.google.com/books?id=33dRAQAAIAAJ
> ---
> Bill Crow, _Jazz Anecdotes: Second Time Around_, 1990/2005 Roy 
> Eldridge said [about Art Tatum performing]: Boy, you could hear a rat 
> piss on cotton!
> https://books.google.com/books?id=cwUS3CGAe0sC
> ---
> On Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 8:45 PM, Jonathan Lighter 
> <wuxxmupp2000 at gmail.com>
> wrote:
> > The version I encountered in the '70s was "a rat pissing on cotton."
> >
> > I suppose frogs are quieter, though.
> >
> > JL
> >
> > On Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 5:25 PM Andy Bach <afbach at gmail.com> wrote:
> >
> > > "'For a few seconds, you honestly could have heard a frog piss on
> > cotton. "
> > > John Carlos' autobiography "The John Carlos Story: The Sports 
> > > Moment That Changed the World"
> > >
> > >
> > > https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/10/
> > tommie-smith-1968-50-years-later/568294/
> > >
> >
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