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Where did that come from - Cry baby
Stan St. Clair

Well, it seems we are going back and forth. Sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry! That’s a good old saying too! But this week I want to take a look at the term “cry baby.”

Also spelled crybaby or cry-baby, this is an Americanism and is claimed by etymologists to go back to 1850-1855. Figuratively, it refers to a person who acts ‘wimpy’ and cries or complains over small insignificant issues.

Its use in America likely originated from more literal usage in urban legend tales which began around that time in Anderson, South Carolina, and has spread across the length and breadth of the United States.

A large number of states have stories of babies dying on bridges, producing rumors that these bridges were haunted and the cry of the babies could still be heard. In Anderson, S.C. (1850s — a mother reportedly threw her baby off the bridge after her husband died in the war); on White Lick Creek in Anderson, Ind. (a baby died in a car crash); near Smyrna, Delaware (a mother reportedly threw her baby off the bridge). 

These bridges, and many others, are all nicknamed “Crybaby Bridge.” Other states with such legends include Ohio, where there are no fewer than 24 “crybaby bridges,” New Jersey, Illinois, Oklahoma, Georgia, Alabama, and Texas.

Mark Twain first used the actual term figuratively in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in 1876 when Tom was trying to shame Joe for wanting to go home:

“Well, we’ll let the cry-baby go home to his mother, won’t we Huck? Poor thing — does it want to see its mother? And so it shall. You like it here, don’t you Huck? We’ll stay, won’t we?”


If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, text the author at 931-212-3303 or email him at stan@stclair.net.