coon's age

Discuss word origins and meanings.

coon's age

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Apr 11, 2007 4:51 pm

A COON’S AGE is an Americanism first recorded in 1843 and meaning a very long time. Some synonyms are A DOG’S AGE (1836), A BLUE MOON (1821), DONKEY’S YEARS (1916), and the older British expression A CROW’S AGE, none of which actually involve huge amounts of time (I was unable to find anything on Jane’s COW’S AGE). <“I haven’t seen Joe in a coon’s age”> But ‘very long time’ is a relative term. The average raccoon lives about 13 years, about the same as a dog, but if you haven’t seen a friend or relative in 13 years, that may seem like a very, very long time – a COON’S AGE. I went to an Easter dinner on Sunday in which two daughters who hadn’t seen their mother in 4 years (a thanks-to-Bush immigration problem) were reunited, and to mother and daughters that 4 years was a very long time.

Etymologists seem to believe that the term could have developed from the old English CROW’S AGE. A more immediate influence or possibly a term that developed in parallel is DOG’S AGE (1836), which appeared in print just 7 years earlier than COON’S AGE.

The origin of the term COON’S AGE is uncertain, but there are several theories:

1) From the mistaken belief that raccoons are long-lived.

2) From the belief that something like the life of a raccoon is a relatively long time (perhaps compared to other animals which live in the same habitat), just as the life of a dog in the term A DOG’S AGE is used to refer to a long period of time.

3) From the raccoon’s habit of disappearing for long periods of sleep during the winter months when it would not be seen out for what seemed ‘ages.’
<1836 “That blamed line gale has kept me in bilboes such a DOG’S AGE.”—‘Knickerbocker Magazine,’ Vol. VII, page 17> [[?? 1) gale: strong wind; rent payment. 2) bilboes: a long iron bar or bolt with sliding shackles and a lock, formerly attached to the ankles of prisoners, and if used here, probably used figuratively]]

<1843 “We had not seen the amount of cash mentioned as lost, in A COON’S AGE.”—‘Spirit of the Times,’ 8 September, page 326>

<1844 “The way she's mad at cousin Pete won't wear off in a COON’S AGE.”—“Major Jones’ Courtship” (edition 2) by W. T. Thompson, page 145>

<1845 “Kicked so far I would hardly get back in A COON’S AGE.”—‘Tarheel Talk’ by Eliason, page 266>

<1853 “Hello, old hoss, whar hev you been this COON’S AGE?”–‘Tarheel Talk’ by Eliason, page 266>

<circa 1860 “This child haint had much money in A COON’S AGE.”—‘Southern Sketches’ by Barteltt>

<1897 “Hit ud take A COON’s AGE, I reckon, to tell ye.”—‘Hell-for-Sartain’ by Fox, page 65>

<1922 “Lord, I got to get a front one of these days . . . I ain’t had a suit in A COON’S AGE.”—‘Emmett Lawler’ by Tully, page 138>

<1939 “Time expressions heard include ‘since Hec was a pup,’ ‘since the woods burned,’ ‘in A COON’S AGE,’ ‘since the year One, ‘as slow as molasses in January,’ ‘as slow as the seven-year itch,’ ‘in two shakes of a dead lamb’s tail,’ and ‘better than.’—Folk Saying from Indiana, in ‘American Speech,’ Vol. 14, No. 4, December, page 264>

<1958 “‘A COON’S AGE’: Is an expression used by people when they mean a long, long time. However, so far has been determined raccoons have about the same life expectancy as that of dogs.”—‘The Hayward Review’ (California), 25 January, page 17>

<1977 “For the stay-at-home housewife this has to be one of the best ideas [[allow homemakers to create their own retirement plans (similar to an IRA) even though they have no earnings]]) that anyone has had in Congress in A COON’S AGE.”—‘News Journal’ (Mansfield, Ohio), 19 June, page 42>

<1998 “The groups followers could have been forgiven for thinking that it no longer existed as a band, except in the case of Steely Dan. Yet here is Pearl Jam on its first full-scale tour in A COON’S AGE.”—‘Syracuse Herald Journal,’ 11 July, page 60>

<2007 “No, she's [[writer, comic, actress Sarah Silverman]] not really racist, she's actually commenting on racism, and even white people seem to get it. In fact, in sneakily subverting biases in between trumpeting some of her own progressive thoughts (‘Nazis are a-holes,’ she grins, bravely), Silverman probably is politically correct—and that's the scariest thing this fudgepacking wop has heard in A COON’S AGE”—‘Village Voice,’ 23 January>
It should be noted that I couldn’t find any evidence that COON’S AGE is being or has been used as a racist term except for what appears to be one isolated instance. And it seems clear that some folks are afraid to use it nowadays because they think it might have the appearance of not being PC. — Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang comments that “the phrase is inevitably seen as linked to COON [a highly derogatory term for a Black person].” Well, yes, perhaps by some — I, for one, never made that link. The one example I did unearth of its use in a derogatory sense (but as a pun on the usual term) was from H. L Mencken (1880–1956, famed U.S. writer, editor, and critic) who some considered to be a racist (a still controversial point), partly based on his free use of racially incorrect terms (e.g. He often referred to blacks as COONS).
<1983 “In 1927 H. L. Mencken, in an editorial, in The American Mercury, in outrage wrote: ‘Can it be that the Republic . . . comes into A COON AGE? The colored brother, once so slowly, now bursts into the sunlight all along the line. In New York City he has made such astounding progress, all within a few years, that he now ranks, socially, next after English actors . . .’”—‘The Journal of Negro Education,’ Vol. 52, No. 2, Spring, page 181-182>
(Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Picturesque Expressions by Urdang, and archived sources).

Ken G – April 11, 2007

coon's age

Post by JANE DOErell » Wed Apr 11, 2007 5:07 pm

I must have typed rather than copy/paste. [ed - Rechecking copy /paste inserts some garbage, so I am sure I typed it.] says "One source claims, instead, that the phrase is an alteration of a crow's age, which is supposedly a British phrase, but we have been able to find no evidence of that."

ed-[BTW, at, a crow's age is said to be old English.]

ed-[I just noticed that redisplays most/all of the preceeding thread each time one adds/views a follow up. So the thing about crow's age being old English was from Facts on File and redisplayed several times. Hence it got several ghits when they were really all only one source.]

coon's age

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Apr 11, 2007 7:54 pm

Jane, My source for the relationship between CROW’S AGE and COON’S AGE was the usually fairly reliable, but by no means infallible, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins:

A COON’S AGE ‘meaning a very long time,’ a coon’s age is an Americanism recorded in 1843 and probably related to the old English expression ‘in a crow’s age,’ meaning the same.

From this I guess I assumed, although after checking I didn’t find any evidence myself, that the question was not whether IN A CROW’S AGE had actually existed as a British expression (or existed at all) and was a synonym, but whether one influenced the other. Or, if perhaps the second came to be independently of the first. In my own search, I didn’t find any evidence that the expression was a British phrase ( had the same result) and, in fact, didn’t find it listed as a headword/phrase in any word or phrase origin sources. And a Google search produced a paltry 7 hits. Also, on I found mostly ads, but I'm guessing that anything you did find is probably a reference back to the above Facts on File quote. But just in case that is an independent reliable source, where was it on that site that you located the info on IN A CROW’S AGE?

Ken – April 11, 2007

coon's age

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Apr 11, 2007 9:50 pm

nettie wrote: Both make valid points while both make absurd points also.
Nettie, if I have offended you I apologise profusely. I was being absurd deliberately. The word “ho” meant nothing to me whatsoever. I have never, ever, come across it, and could not have been expected to know how much of a taboo word it is to that side of the Atlantic, nor indeed did I realise that “nappy” fell into the same mould, it really is what we call a diaper over here. Had I heard this presenter, I would not have realised that an insult had been perpetrated at all.

I have just learned that one should not play with words without knowing their meaning to another.
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

coon's age

Post by nettie » Wed Apr 11, 2007 10:27 pm

Bob or Bobina-you did not offend me in any way and I am sorry if I somehow mad you think that, because what I was trying to say was the exact opposite. With all the sad and scary things going on in this world and particularly the USA I wouldn't think that we are afforded the choice to be offended by the rantings of a silly man. I don't usually listen to programs that offend me, and if I do, it is just to confirm how totally asinine they are (in my opinion). I used to read various columns knowing how angry I would be by the end-now I force myself to skip them-finding things to make you sad is too easy.

coon's age

Post by Erik_Kowal » Thu Apr 12, 2007 8:32 am

Some explanations appear to be in order for the benefit of non-US-based members.

You will find accounts of the controversy initiated by talk-show host Don Imus at these New York Times and Eurweb pages, and extensively elsewhere (search Google News for the terms "nappy-headed" plus "Don Imus").

The word 'ho', or 'hoe', has gradually achieved widespread currency in the USA as a variant pronunciation of 'whore', in large part, I believe, because of its prevalence in hip-hop lyrics that have introduced it to people who would otherwise rarely or never have encountered it. According to the Cassell Dictionary of Slang it was first noted in the 1950s as a term of US Black origin.

Regarding 'naphead' and 'nappy-head', the same dictionary states the following:

[1930s+] (US Black) 1) someone with kinky hair. 2) an unsophisticated Black person. (Standard English nappy, of hair, tightly curled; 2) is an extension of 1) in an era when fashionable Blacks straightened their hair)

The Merriam-Webster New Universal Unabridged Dictionary (MWNUUD) defines 'nappy' in this context as an adjective meaning [of cloth] "1) covered with nap; downy. 2) (of hair) kinky. [1490-1500]."

The MWNUUD also mentions the adjectival forms 'nappier' and 'nappiest', and the noun 'nappiness'.
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coon's age

Post by gdwdwrkr » Thu Apr 12, 2007 9:13 am

Three cheers for Nettie.
Succinct and eloquent.

coon's age

Post by Shelley » Thu Apr 12, 2007 12:14 pm

First: it's interesting that even though "a coon's age" has been shown NOT to reflect racism, we're still talking about racist language and nasty words broadcast over the airwaves. I don't think "a coon's age" will ever shake its (albeit mistaken) racist connotation. I've always believed the phrase is about a raccoon, but whatreyagonnado?

Second: I'd like to turn your attention hair. When this book for children came out a few years ago, it caused a huge splash because of the author's bold use of the word "nappy" to describe an African-American girl's hair. If you google "nappy hair" you'll find websites about this book and the controversy surrounding the use of the word "nappy", plus sites devoted to the care and styling of African-American tresses.

As I've said before -- IT'S ALL ABOUT INTENTION and, of course, the unwritten "I can say it but you can't" law, which is totally legit in my book. I'm really losing patience with those who complain about its imagined inequity.

And Nettie, I'm with you: I turn that stuff off. My other half is addicted to the fighting talk shows, both those on the radio and the TV. He gets really mad and yells back at the pundits. Wouldn't he be amazed if they yelled back at him? I accused him of pundit-envy, and he laughed so I know all is not lost. I thought he was crazy for intentionally listening to something that riled him so, until I realized he ENJOYS the fight. Some of 'em do.

coon's age

Post by hsargent » Thu Apr 12, 2007 1:49 pm

I am still reacting to Nettie's class stopping at the word HOE.

Does this reflect the demographics of her class or their exposure to Rap? I can't imagine my grandchildren not thinking of HOE as only a garden tool!

I know this is a diversion from Coon's Age and I get distracted with these rabbit trails in this site's threads.
Signature: Harry Sargent

coon's age

Post by nettie » Fri Apr 13, 2007 12:06 am

I'm with you on distracted, but you can only take a conversation on coon's age so far. And you did hit the nail on the head-somewhat-my class is made up of 90% economically disandvanged children, though both black and white. I can honestly say that unless your children live in a bubble are homeschooled and you haven't put them up for adoption yet-they are going to hear and see things we wish we could shelter them from. Funny thing though is the children know more about appropriate language than many adults-if they wish to utter such insults they do it in secret so that they can still pull the "I did not" A little hard to claim that when your dumb enough to say such things over the airwaves. I wonder if George took these kinds of things into consideration with his NCLB-that tests makes it look like they were left behind when they were only trying to be PC.

coon's age

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Apr 13, 2007 2:09 am

I assume that by NCLB you mean Bush's so-called "No child left behind" programme.
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coon's age

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Apr 13, 2007 6:46 am

Don’t get me started on the so-called “No Child Left Behind” and its ugly incarnation in Colorado – CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) and its accompanying math monstrosity ‘Math Mates’ (packaged homework and quizzes) because in my town, at least, overall, it’s probably doing a lot more harm than good. In the math program, an area I’m familiar with, the good it does is help pull weak students up to grade level, which is commendable, who still can’t do such basic things as multiply, divide, add fractions, etc. right up through high school. The damage it does is indiscriminately treat kids who already know all this stuff as if they didn’t know it and bore them silly (e.g. 9th grade question – fill in the three times table, add 2/5 + 1/5), waste their time, and deprive them of large sections of material that must be removed from what used to be the standard programs in order to fit in all the remediation. And, of course, teaching comes to a halt every spring (bye-bye two more weeks of course material) so that we can have CSAP testing.

The problem is that everyone is treated as if they don’t know their basics and the students who do know them are dragged down in order to accommodate those who don’t. If they separated the students out who were up to grade level, exempting them from CSAP, from those who weren’t, that would be fine. But that might be considered ‘tracking’ (lowering the self-esteem of the nonexempt), which has been a dirty word on and off over the years and looks like it is now might be out of favor in Colorado. But dragging down the whole class level to accommodate the weakest students just doesn’t make any sense. And this is only one of the many damaging aspects of NCLB, at least in its Colorado version.

So I say, dump CSAP and dump "No Child Left Behind" (or as it might also be called “The Child Who is Not Behind is Left Behind”), which has spawned such poorly designed programs as CSAP and replace it with something sensible.

Ken G – April 12, 2007

coon's age

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Apr 13, 2007 8:17 am

Something sensible is private education. What? Parents don't care about their children like the state does?
Well put, Ken, about this microcosm of socialism.
Dump entitlements entirely.

coon's age

Post by Shelley » Fri Apr 13, 2007 11:06 am

No Child Left Behind = No Child Gets Ahead

coon's age

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Apr 13, 2007 11:40 am

Shelley wrote: No Child Left Behind = No Child Gets Ahead
For shame...suggesting excellence! Tsk!

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