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English Language & UsageWhat is the etymology of "cornhole"?
[+12] [5] Callithumpian
[2011-05-02 13:00:34]
[ etymology slang offensive-language ]
[ http://english.stackexchange.com/questions/23488/what-is-the-etymology-of-cornhole ]

Since being introduced to the bean bag-toss game [1] of the same name, I've wondered about this word. The old farm game, similar to horseshoes [2], has recently gained such popularity that Googling cornhole is now anodyne. Aficionados are unapologetic about the game's name, but given the word's unsavory history, introducing the game to the unfamiliar can still be sheepish.

Checking Etymonline [3], I was surprised to find this:

cornhole synonymous with "do anal intercourse" by 1930s, apparently the reference is to a game played in the farming regions of the Ohio Valley in the U.S. from 19c., in which players take turns throwing a small bag full of feed corn at a raised platform with a hole in it.

Does the game's name really predate the word's other meaning(s)? Where did the other meanings (I've seen it used as a noun and a verb) originate? I'm interested in any substantiated clues to the historical development of this Americanism.

NICE. Setting precedents, I see. =) - Uticensis
[+9] [2011-05-02 13:16:58] Robusto

In rural America, which was an agrarian society originally, people did not have indoor plumbing and instead used an outhouse. They didn't have toilet paper either, so they had to use whatever was at hand. Corncobs were often used for the purpose. That's how they came to be associated with the rectum.

EDIT: What I said above was related to me by my grandfather, who grew up in a farming community in Illinois in the early 20th century. So it may be folk etymology. Etymonline.com differs somewhat [1], although I find their explanation bizarre (and note that it is qualified with the word "apparently" — apparently what?

cornhole synonymous with "do anal intercourse" by 1930s, apparently the reference is to a game played in the farming regions of the Ohio Valley in the U.S. from 19c., in which players take turns throwing a small bag full of feed corn at a raised platform with a hole in it.

FURTHER EDIT:

Etymonline offers no explanation for how "anal intercourse" became associated with an innocuous game. Was there a gay culture on the down-low in farming communities, one that staged mock games of what amounts to bean-bag tossing to cover up homosexual orgies? That seems ridiculous.

[1] http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=cornhole&searchmode=none

Can you offer any proof this is not a folk etymology? - Callithumpian
+1 - I bet they had a problem in Arizona - probably more prickly. - Alain Pannetier Φ
@Callithumpian: It's always just something that I (thought I) knew. See my edit. Etymonline differs, but their etymology seems based on speculation. - Robusto
For those interested, a Cornhole Board. - Grant Thomas
(1) @Mr. Disappointment: This is a usage of the term "corn hole" but not one that relates it to the anus. So I remain skeptical. - Robusto
@Robusto: The name of the throwing game is cornhole, one word. - Callithumpian
@Robusto: I was just throwing it out there to make accessible the fact that the word is, not only apparently, but evidently used for a game like the one mentioned. Was just a reference, I didn't do any research into the question, as I presume you might have done. - Grant Thomas
@Callithumpian: w/e - Robusto
@Robusto: I'm just sayin', if the game does factor into the etymology, I'd love to get some specifics (or proof otherwise). - Callithumpian
OK, corncobs as "tp" checks out, but the jump to cornhole still seems folky. - Callithumpian
I suspect that it was not corn cobs that were used as toilet paper, but corn hulls (i.e. the outer husks of the cob). That would explain the transformation to "corn hole" which makes less sense with a cob. - Marcin
@Marcin: I saw one reference to husks, but many more to corncobs. - Callithumpian
@Callithumpian: Sure, but could that just be that people don't really know or recognize what a husk/hull is, but everyone who knows corn knows what a corn cob looks like, so it makes for a better story to say it was the corn cob? I note that wikipedia provides no evidence for the use of corn cobs as toilet paper. - Marcin
(1) @Marcin: Here's some corncob citations. - Callithumpian
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[+7] [2011-05-05 00:32:07] MrHen

The Google Books search for "cornhole" between 1900-1965 [1] reveals usage as anal sexing or people's names. The earliest sex reference in their list seems to be 1951 with "Don't let him cornhole you!" Moving the search to 1995-2005 [2] begins revealing references to the game. All other date ranges previous involve anal sex, the anus, someone's name or a literal hole in the ground for corn. (I checked.) Naturally, this doesn't mean much about its out-of-book uses but it does give some metric.

Alternative sources include the American Cornhole Association [3] with an unconvincing:

It has been said that the game originated in Germany in the 14th century, and then was rediscovered in the hills of Kentucky over 100 years ago.

And an article in (the Cincinnati?) Enquirer [4] and the Corn Hole Game Association [5] which essentially agree that history is contested and no date is available.

The game itself has probably been around as long as it was feasible to put corn or other seed into a sack and toss it at something. While the name cornhole would probably have been independently coined all over the place, its universal acceptance as a name of the game doesn't appear much earlier than the 2000s. There are often tales of people using the name earlier but apparently none of them ever decided to publish a book.

Given its other usage having already been published in various forms it seems safe to say the word's primary meaning during the mid-1900s was significantly less innocent than a game played with sacks of corn. Whether anyone was calling the game cornhole then or not, that was mostly likely not the meaning of the word.


In other news, a 500 reputation bounty may not be enough to sift through pages upon pages of Google book matches relating to anal sex.

[1] http://www.google.com/search?q=%22cornhole%22&tbs=bks:1,cdr:1,cd_min:1900,cd_max:1965&lr=lang_en#q=%22cornhole%22&hl=en&lr=lang_en&tbs=cdr:1,cd_min:1900,cd_max:1965,lr%3alang_1en&tbm=bks&tbas=0&source=lnt&sa=X&ei=hujBTaSlKcjc0QH1x5C3Cg&ved=0CFoQpwUoAA&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=38ce3bf19d98e4c6
[2] http://www.google.com/search?q=%22cornhole%22&tbs=bks:1,cdr:1,cd_min:1900,cd_max:1965&lr=lang_en#q=%22cornhole%22&hl=en&lr=lang_en&tbas=0&sa=X&ei=cunBTbj5B-jZ0QHyjpGJDA&ved=0CE0QpwUoBDhQ&source=lnt&tbs=lr%3alang_1en,cdr:1,cd_min:1/1/1995,cd_max:12/31/2005&tbm=bks&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=38ce3bf19d98e4c6
[3] http://www.playcornhole.org/whatis.shtml
[4] http://www.enquirer.com/editions/2003/10/20/tem_monlede20side3.html
[5] http://www.cornholegame.org/history.php

(1) @MrHen: Some people would give a 500 rep bounty to be allowed to sift through pages upon pages of Google book matches relating to anal sex! Whatever floats your boat, I say. - FumbleFingers
@MrHen: Nice overview. I'd like to know more about the "literal hole in the ground" lead. - Callithumpian
@MrHen, you are right about the American Cornhole Association being unconvincing - American corn (Maize) being unknown in Europe before the discovery of the new World in the late 16th century. Old German does have Korn word - rye or wheat I believe (as in Vollkornbrot - brown bread). - Alain Pannetier Φ
@Alain: Late 15th. - Callithumpian
@Callithumpian, oops you're so right, so many things happened in 1492 !!! - Alain Pannetier Φ
@Calli: Google Books was being cranky and their little screenshot things were not working as I expected them to. The references to holes in the ground were scattered through the date ranges but there were not many (as in, about three). When I rekindle some interest I will jump back in. :P - MrHen
@MrHen: I let this bounty expire knowing you'd get half of it. I didn't give out the full amount because I was really hoping for a more extensive/conclusive answer from someone. Thank you for your prelim. - Callithumpian
@Calli: Yeah, I really don't know how much more can be found via the internet. :) - MrHen
@MrHen: I'll take that as a challenge. . . - Callithumpian
@Calli: Well, let me know how it goes. I never did get the courage to go back through the books looking for corn in a hole references. - MrHen
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[0] [2011-05-04 21:24:53] Jon Purdy

Corn became associated with the rectum due to the fact that corn is not easily digestible, and consequently shows up regularly in the stool. The hole whence such undigested corn emanates thus became known as the cornhole, and the verb to cornhole referring to anal sex was a natural extension. I'm asserting this is the correct etymology based on widely available anecdotal evidence, relatively frequent mention in comedy, and Occam's razor.


Bounties like citations. - Callithumpian
@Callithumpian: I don't much care about bounties or what they like. - Jon Purdy
Then you might not get a bounty! - Thursagen
@Third Idiot: Well, points are essentially meaningless. I'm on SE for the fun of it. - Jon Purdy
That's really good! I like your spirit. - Thursagen
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[0] [2011-05-05 08:39:32] Thursagen

This game was originally played in Germany round about the 14th century. A version of it is also played by the Blackhawk Indians in Illinois. It then recently gained popularity in the past century, and come to be known by its present name. One thing is certain however, the name 'cornhole' was not used when the game was first invented. It was only used when this game was 'rediscovered' in America recently. When playing the game, there are phrases peculiar to the game that are called out(i.e. in Australian Football, a mark is a catch, and a screamer is a catch of someone's back), and 'cornhole' in this game was called out when the bag of corn landed in the hole(obviously). That is the origin of the name of the game.

http://www.cornholecornhole.com/the-secret-history-of-cornhole

http://www.playcornhole.org/whatis.shtml

http://www.cornholeoutlet.com/WhatisCornhole

For a link to the Blackhawks idea, it's http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornhole#History

and http://www.cornboard.co.uk/history/

As to the word's other meanings, I'd rather not mention them.


I've heard the German-origin theory. Can you point to any sources for this or about the Blackhawks? - Callithumpian
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[0] [2011-05-05 09:13:35] Alenanno

On the English wikipedia it mentions Germany but doesn't go deep in that matter. I found out more info on the italian wikipedia. I know it's not the best source around, but maybe it can help you in some way, I'll translate it for you.

It seems that the "Cornhole" comes from Germany, where, in 1325, a furniture maker/seller whose name was Mathias Kuepermann (Küpermann I suppose), when observing kids that where playing throwing stones into an hole, invented a less dangerous system to have fun. Looking around and seeing the large quantity of corn that was available in "his Bavaria", he decided that the new stones would be bags filled with corn weighing one pound. After some time in which it disappeared, the Cornhole game appeared again in America, in Cincinnati exactly, where, in the meantime, some immigrants from Germany had arrived.

If there are mistakes, let me know, I tried to translate it the best way I can.


(1) Corn, as in maize, in Barvaria in 1325? Does this article have any citations to back it up? - Callithumpian
Not that I know of... Like I said, I found it on wikipedia, which is not the most reliable source around, and so I thought it could help you in your search, if not give you the answer. - Alenanno
(1) @Callithumpian: Corn meant grain before it came to mean maize in America (from shortening of Indian corn). Hence korn in that context would mean grain, and one can certainly fill a bag with grain other than maize. Perhaps you're not familiar with bean bag? - mgkrebbs
@mgk: I'm familiar. I used bean bag in the OP. I was merely hinting this story is bunk (as obvious from this version). - Callithumpian
@Callithumpian: Maybe you forget that I translated this piece in 2 minutes, almost without dictionary, except for "corn", "maize" and I wasn't sure which one to choose so that's why maybe you see it as wrong. I just wanted to convey the general meaning, maybe I should correct those terms. - Alenanno
@Alenanno: I understand, and thank you for the translation. It's just that I think the story you translated is fictional—regardless of what filled the bags. - Callithumpian
@Callithumpian: You're welcome, in the end it's kind of my job lol :D anyway, I have no concrete basis to say something about it. I just thought it could be helpful, to you or to anyone else in their search. :) - Alenanno
(1) Isn't liber beter translated as pound? I am not an expert on weights, though... - Cerberus
@Cerberus: +1 You're right, I'll edit it. I didn't check that in the dictionary (maybe I should have done it). :) - Alenanno
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