Thursday, December 3, 2015

Words of Georgia

Words of Georgia

Nothing like an etymological tour of arbitrary states of the USA. First was California, then Pennsylvania, and this week we’re off to Georgia.

The word jarhead, meaning US Marine, showed up first in print in 1985 in a biographical book about WWII. Interestingly, the word jarhead was in use much earlier. In the 1920s in the state of Georgia, jarhead meant mule.

Though other sources have been proposed, the most likely source of the word lulu heralds from the state of Georgia. 15-year-old Georgian vaudeville performer, Lulu Hurst, became a sensation in 1883. She could cause canes, umbrellas, or chairs held firmly by resolute audience members to move and shake (or so it seemed). Once her methods were discovered, she quit show business, even cancelling a vaudeville tour of Europe. Ever since, though, something amazing or remarkable can be referred to as a lulu.

Snake oil took America by storm in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Linguists aren’t certain where the term was first uttered, but it certainly made its way to Georgia. There appears to be little correlation with the remedy’s ingredients & its name, though records show many charlatans and barkers claimed it was made of rattlesnake oil. In Georgia, snake oil was said to cure rheumatism & gout, in Pennsylvania it was said to cure deafness, & in the states in between, it was said to cure pretty much everything in between.  

From relative obscurity in an Atlanta, Georgia strip club in 2005, the word twerk became a national sensation. It could be argued that countless earlier dancers danced in a manner meant to simulate copulation, but the honor of introducing greater America to the term goes to The Ying Yang Twins. Before their big hit in 2005, the term was popular in southern hip-hop circles for at least ten years.

Much earlier in Atlanta (1886), Dr. John S. Pemberton invented Coca-Cola. The inspiration for the name came because the original ingredients were derived from cola nuts and coca leaves. Pemberton marketed his fizzy drink as a “brain tonic” and “intellectual soda fountain beverage”. An interesting non-Georgia related historic tidbit is that in 1950, the wine growers & communists of France joined together to attempt a ban on Coca-Cola, which was seen as both a threat to the French wine industry & an ugly example of American capitalism.

How about all these Georgia words? I hope you’ll leave a comment or two.

Big thanks to this week’s sources: Etymonline, Wordnik, Merriam Webster, & the OED.


  1. So interesting. I love that Lulu was an actual person who performed acts of deception. Snake oil certainly was a deceptive product. As was Coca Cola when it was presented as a brain tonic. Wait...maybe that one is true, when it had cocaine in it.

  2. On the origin of lulu. Wondered where that came from. Another great journey thru etymology. I love your posts. Have you researched humdinger? Wonder where that came from. Just word associations here but it's such fun.

  3. Hey Paul & Christine - thanks so much for coming by. Wouldn't it be wild to have been The Lulu of all lulus? And as to humdingers....hmmm.