Bumpkins Get Short End of the Sticks

Rob Kyff on

"Stix Nix Hick Pix," proclaimed a 1935 headline in the entertainment newspaper Variety. Translation: Small-town movie houses don't want films with rural themes.

But why do we call rustics "hicks"?

"Hick" is one of several derogatory terms based on abbreviations of common names. In England during the 1600s, "Hick" was short for "Richard," "Hob" was short for "Robert" and King Charles I was simply short.

Because the country bumpkins who came to big cities often used their down-home nicknames, "Hick" came to denote an ignorant country fellow, as did "rube," short for "Reuben," and "yokel," a version of "Jacob."

(As long as we're in this neck of the woods, a couple of readers have asked me about the origin of the love bite known as a "hickey." Well, you see, your partner rips open your collar ... Whoa, not THAT origin! Fact is, nobody knows where "hickey" comes from.)

"Bumpkin," which originally meant a Dutchman, came to mean any man with a stumpy figure and, eventually, anyone from a stumpy rural area. "Bumpkin" may come from the Dutch "bumkin" (little tree) or the Dutch "bommekijn" (little barrel), or it may be simply the English word "bum" with the diminutive suffix "-kin" attached.

BTW, I've always wondered why the Dutch are tarred with disreputable phrases such as "Dutch uncle" (stingy or sententious), "Dutch courage" (alcohol) and "going Dutch" (you both share the expenses for collars torn during hickey sessions). The answer is that many of these Dutch-dissing terms were concocted by the Brits, who were commercial rivals of the Dutch during the 1600s and 1700s.


Americans have devised a variety of names for rural America, including "the sticks" (for its woodsy landscape) and "Podunk." During the early 1800s, at least five American hamlets bore the Algonquian name "Podunk" (in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Michigan). Thus, by the time of the Civil War, "Podunk" had become a generic term for any small, backwater village.

Politicians are always wondering whether their policies will "play in Peoria," an expression that evolved when vaudeville acts were tried out in small midwestern cities such as Peoria, Illinois, before the shows moved on to Chicago or St. Louis.

More recently, the vast middle of the country has been dubbed "the flyover" by bicoastal sophisticates who jet over it as they travel between New York to California.

Updated Variety headline: "Stix Hicks Nix 'Flyover' Shtick."


Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. His book, "Mark My Words," is available for $9.99 on Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.

Copyright 2024 Creators Syndicate Inc.




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