I was asked by Warren County Commissioner Tommy Savage about the old saying “drunk as Cooter Brown” at a recent luncheon. Since it was not in my books, I did a little research.
According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, founded in 1792, when asked the origin of this odd, old adage, they phoned Cooter Brown’s Tavern and Oyster Bar in New Orleans and were told that the legendary Brown lived near the Mason-Dixon Line at the time the Civil War broke out. Since he had family living on both sides, he had no desire to be drafted by either the North or the South.
Hence, he decided to get drunk and stay that way so he would be declared unfit for military service. Ever since, he has been used as the quintessential example of inebriety — particularly in the South.
A similar saying is, “drunk as a skunk.”
We obviously know that this phrase has nothing to do with the lovable, yet oft-avoided furry mammal. It is simply derived from the habit of rhyming our sayings. Though similar expressions in the English language date to the 15th century, “drunk as a skunk” dates only to the late 1930s. Writers came close in 1938 with citations like this one from Colliers Illustrated Weekly, Volume 101:
“Drunk and disorderly. Can’t you smell it? He was havin’ a knock-down, that he was working on an important case, then settled down ... ‘You finally sunk to booze and brawlin’, eh, you skunk?”
A very early example of a version of the simile is from “American Nabob,” a novel by Holmes Moses Alexander, 1939: “Half of ‘em are drunk as skunks.”
The next year “Stars on the Sea,” Frances van Wyck Mason, 1940 carried this dead-on line: “Must have been drunk as a skunk not to have recognized him.”
If you would like to know the origin of a favorite expression, contact Stan St. Clair at email@example.com.