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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"Grinning Like A Mule Eating Briers!"

I have really enjoyed looking up the origins of phrases and sayings. I especially like the Southern phrases. My family and I use them all the time. I'm sure you use many of the same phrases. I began to do Google searches to try and find the origins of some of these and it's been interesting and fun. I thought I would share my new interest with you.

The first one is one my mother-in-law used recently: "She was grinning like a mule eating briers."

"Grinning like a mule eating briers" - means grinning from ear to ear, displaying all your teeth, much like a mule eating briars would look.

The first American mules were produced in Virginia by George Washington, who bred a jackass recieved as a gift from the king of Spain to some of his draft mares. The mule proved ideal for southern farm life, being sure-footed, cheap to feed, great stamina and had a long life. (They are, of course, also strong on stubbornness with a tendency to become dangerous when aggravated.) They cannot reproduce themselves as they are a hybrid animal. Almost all mules are sired by jacks, but when a horse is the male parent the offspring is called a "henny" or "hinny." In their heyday in the South, prior to about 1950, mules provided farm labor, transportation and assistance in hunting, especially the kinds involving thick timber and hounds. The largest plantations bred and raised their own mules; but the more usual practice was to buy them as adults raised mainly in Tennessee, Missouri, and Kentucky, often in sizes for special use -- the largest for hauling timber or for work on the big sugar and rice plantations, the smallest for mine duty and pack-animal service in the mountains. The most common type was the general-purpose "cotton mule" that grew to between a half-ton and fourteen hundred pounds.

There are many other "mule" references in commonly used phrases.
"Stubborn as a mule"
"Has a kick like a mule" (as in "That gun has a kick like a mule.")
"Makes enough money to burn a wet mule"
"Has forty acres and a mule" - This one refers to the short-lived policy, during the last stages of the American Civil War in 1865, of providing farmable land to former slaves who had become free as a result of the advance of the Union armies into the territory previously controlled by the Confederacy, particularly after Major General's William Tecumseh Sherman's "March to the Sea." Forty acres is a standard size for a rural family plot, square mile, under the Public Land Survey System used on land settled after 1785. The combination of a 40 acre plot and a mule was widely recognized as providing a sound start for a family farm. During the final months of the Civil War, tens of thousands of freed slaves left their plantations to follow General William T. Sherman's victorious Union Army troops across Georgia and the Carolinas. In January 1865, in an effort to address the issues caused by this growing number of refugees. This made for a really sticky problem. These former slaves needed and wanted protection from the Union troops. They were afraid to stay in the South without their protection. But the military was greatly hampered by the logistics of protecting and feeding this swarm of refugees. They couldn't conduct a war and military manouevers and supply their own needs while worrying about this drift of needy humanity. General Sherman even tried to leave them behind by crossing rivers quickly and hoping the refugees couldn't follow. Finally he issued Special Field Order Number 15, a temporary plan. The Special Field Order was never intended to reflect an official policy of the United States government with regards to all former slaves and were issued "throughout the campaign to assure the harmony of action in the area of operations". By June 1865, around 10,000 freed slaves settled on 400,000 acres in Georgia and South Carolina taken from original (white) owners. The former slaves saw this as a chance to start their own farms and provide for their families after years of servitude. But, the original owners were not happy with this, as you can imagine. What if it were land you had bought, paid for and worked only to have it confiscated and given to someone for free? After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, his successor, President Andrew Johnson, revoked Sherman's Orders and returned the land to its previous white owners. Because of this, the phrase "40 acres and a mule" has come to represent the failure of Reconstruction policies in restoring to black Americans the fruits of their labor. The phrase is meant to indicate enough to get started and provide for yourself.

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