Wednesday, July 3, 2024

RETRO Episode 57: Acknowledge the Corn and other American Civil War Slang

RETRO: This week Shauna and Dan travel to Gettysburg to explore Civil War slang. They Acknowledge the Corn after they try to Come the Gum Game, all while staying Fit as a Fiddle so they can See the Elephant. BONUS: Learn how hardtack was like twinkies! #BunnyTrails

Originally Aired August 7, 2019

Copyright 2024 All Rights Reserved


Bunny Trails

RETRO Episode 57: Acknowledge the Corn and other American Civil War Slang

Original Record Date: August 4, 2019

Original Air Date:  August 7, 2019

RETRO Record Date: June 30, 2024

RETRO Air Date: July 3, 2024

Welcome back to Bunny Trails everyone. 

This week we have a RETRO episode for 

you. And we recorded it on location in 

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania back in the summer 

of 2019.  Clearly we recorded first thing in the 

morning because my voice was much deeper than usual. 

You may notice in the show we did things a

 little differently in the early days. One change 

we made was to be completely clear about 

what we were quoting, so now you hear us 

say “Quote” and “End Quote” in our shows, but back in 2019 we were less clear. 

Another note, we mention a cool, funny 

history podcast at the end of the show, 

Cutting Class with Jess and Joe. That 

podcast ended its run in August 2022, 

but you can still listen to their 177 episodes 

on Spotify. 

But before we jump into the episode, we 

need to give a special thanks to our patrons, 

especially Pat Rowe and Mary Halsig Lopez. 

Without you all, we would not be able to

 make the show. Our Pateron is free to

 join, but we also have several tiers where 

you can help support the show and get 

some pretty cool perks, too. You can join 

the community on Patreon, 

And with that, we’ll jump into episode 57 

on American Civil War Slang, originally released August 7, 2019. 

Bunny Trails

Episode 57: Civil War

Record Date: August 4, 2019

Air Date:  August 7, 2019


Shauna: Welcome to Bunny Trails, a 

whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Shauna Harrision

Dan: And I’m Dan Pugh

Usually, we delve into the origin and history 

of one specific idiom, or other turn of phrase, 

and discuss how it’s been used over time. 

But occasionally, we like to take a group of 

phrases that don’t have enough information 

for a full show and give you a little bit of 

background. We usually do this through 

a theme, including past themes like 

Weddings and Theaters. This week 

we are coming to you on location in the 

beautiful Borough of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania 

to talk about some American Civil War Slang.  


The Battle of Gettysburg was fought 

July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of 

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, by Union and 

Confederate forces during the American 

Civil War. The battle involved the largest 

number of casualties of the entire war and 

is often described as the war's turning point.



During the Civil War, Private James 

Snell wrote in his diary

the rebels "tried to come a gum game 

on us”. The next entry indicates that 

the Confederates were trying to make 

Snell's regiment believe that they 

were retreating when they were not. 

This was from a paper by Jay Monaghan 

called, Civil War Slang and Humor. 

Monaghan notes this is one of many 

idioms used by soldiers in the Civil War 

which has completely evaporated from modern speech.

gum-game  n. U.S. slang a trick or dodge.

1840   in Amer. Speech (1941) 16 299  

 I've come the gum game over you.

1871   Edward Eggleston Hoosier School-master xiv. 118   Now, looky here... You don't come no gum games over me.

1885   Lisbon (Dakota Territory) Star 18 Sept.   They tried the gum-game on me down in Pennsylvania..but I came out ahead.

1871   Edward Eggleston Hoosier School-master xiv. 118   

Now, looky here... You don't come no gum games over me.

1885   Lisbon (Dakota Territory) Star 18 Sept.   

They tried the gum-game on me down in Pennsylvania..

but I came out ahead.

The phrase seems to have fallen out of favor in the early 

1900s, with one of the last instances I found in print 

coming in January 1910.

Acknowledge the Corn

P4. to acknowledge (admit, confess) the corn: to confess 

or acknowledge a charge, imputation, failure, etc. (orig. U.S.).

THis phrase is said to have originated in Congress.

 This according to a story in the The Pascagoula 

democrat-star out of Mississippi from November 03, 1882. 

It is said to have originated in 1828 during a 

session of Congress.  Andrew Stewart, a 

Congressman from Pennsylvania claimed 

Kentucky and several other states were 

sending their hay-stacks, corn-fields, and 

fodder to his state. The Kentucky Congressman, 

Charles Wickliffe, took issue and said they do

 not send those things. Asked what they did send, 

he declared hogs and other animals. A typical 

congressional conversation ensured, where 

Wickliffe says the hogs are fed about 30 bushels of corn each to fatten them up. 

Since then, “Acknowledge the Corn” and later also “Confess the Corn” has meant admitting to a lie or being caught in faslehood.

1839   Daily Picayune (New Orleans) 15 Apr. 2/1   We were certain it was not Dutch, and was in error in saying it was Scotch, and ‘acknowledge the corn’.

1840   Daily Pennant (St. Louis) 14 July   David Johnson acknowledged the corn, and said that he was drunk.

1842   Spirit of Times (Philadelphia) 16 Mar.   Your honor, I confesses the corn. I was royally drunk.

1846   N.Y. Herald 27 June   The Evening Mirror very naively comes out and acknowledges the corn.

1854   B. P. Shillaber Life & Sayings Mrs. Partington 152   The old Sherry admitted the corn, turned over and slept on it.

1883   G. A. Sala Living London 97 (Farmer)   Mr. Porter acknowledges the corn as regards his fourteen days' imprisonment, and is forgiven by his loving consort.

1891   C. Roberts Adrift Amer. 54   I acknowledge ‘the corn’ myself, as they say across the Atlantic.

1902   W. N. Harben Abner Daniel 136   When anybody teaches me any tricks, I acknowledge the corn an' take off my hat.

1948   C. E. Funk Hog on Ice 38   To acknowledge the corn..means to admit the losing of an argument, especially in regard to a detail; to retract; to admit defeat.

From a company that deals in ice distribution (a huge concept in the late 1800s)

The phrase seems to have fallen out of favor in the late 19-teens, with only a few examples in the 1920s and most of those being advertising puns directed at an older audience, like this 1925 example from the Evening Star, June 3, 1925.

A Quick Thank You


Today’s show is sponsored by our Patrons.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, since the 1300s the word “patron” has meant: A person standing in a role of oversight, protection, or sponsorship to another.

Patron comes from the Latin word for Father, Pater (PA Tier), then becoming Patronus meaning champion or protector, then to Patron, meaning one who sponsors something… like a Patron of the arts. 

Leonardo Da Vinci had Patrons like Medici and Cesare Borgia (Chasier Bor Gia). Bunny Trails has similarly awesome Patrons, including Charlie Moore, Pat Rowe, and Mary Lopez. We’d also like to thank our newest Patron, Ernest Olsen!

If YOU want to become a Patron of Bunny Trails, and get cool perks like early access to episodes, behind the scenes content, monthly mini-episodes, and more,  you can visit us, or you can find links to it at

To See The Elephant

Refers to gaining experience of the world, often times at a significant cost

to see the elephant (U.S. slang): to see life, the world, or the sights (as of a large city); to get experience of life, to gain knowledge by experience. Also to show or get a look at the elephant. (Cf. lion n. 4.)

[1835   A. B. Longstreet Georgia Scenes 10   That's sufficient, as Tom Haynes said when he saw the elephant.]

1844   G. W. Kendall Narr. Santa Fé Exped. I. 108   There is a cant expression, ‘I've seen the elephant’ in very common use in Texas.

1847   W. T. Porter Quarter Race Kentucky 87   I axed him if he'd ever seen the elephant.

1849   N. Kingsley Diary (1914) 86   [I] went up town and saw the Elephant, and it almost baffles description.

1849   T. T. Johnson Sights Gold Region 324   If you think we have not shown you enough of the elephant..please to mount him and take a view for yourself.

1857   O. W. Wight Quinland II. ii. xviii. 126   The ‘Fox and Crow’ is one of the famous sights in New York. It is never missed by the countryman or the foreigner, who is searching after the ‘elephant’.

1878   J. H. Beadle Western Wilds iii. 45   My friend Will Wylie, who had seen the elephant in its entirety, from trunk to tail.

1906   ‘O. Henry’ Four Million 87   He makes his rounds every evening, while you and I see the elephant once a week.

1960   T. V. Olsen High Lawless (1961) iii. 30   Saturdays some of the boys from the three big outfits come in to see the elephant.

This phrase has been in use as see the lion since the 1600s, like this example from Capt John Smith in The true travels, adventures and observations of Captaine J. Smith · 1630

  • After, one Master John Bull.., with divers of his friends, went to see the Lyons [in the Tower]

 The specific “See the elephant” seemed to come into popular use in the early 1800s. The OED has the first attestation in 1835 by Augustus Baldwin Longstreet in Georgia scenes, characters, incidents, &c., in the first half century of the republic: By a native Georgian

  • That's sufficient, as Tom Haynes said when he saw the elephant.

In this case, and many outside of the war, ‘see the elephant’ was to see life, the world, or the sights (as of a large city); to get experience of life, to gain knowledge by experience.

In a 1857 work by Orlando Wight in Quinland; or, Varieties in American life

  • The ‘Fox and Crow’ is one of the famous sights in New York. It is never missed by the countryman or the foreigner, who is searching after the ‘elephant’.

As early as the Mexican-American War, See The Elephant was specifically used to mean “to see battle” among soldiers and military members. This was a common phrase during the Civil War as well, continuing at least until the Vietnam War, like Tom Dalzell wrote in Vietnam War Slang: A Dictionary on Historical Principles.

And this makes sense from an intuitive standpoint. See the elephant is about gaining life experiences, and when in war the biggest of the experiences is combat, or going into battle. 

There’s even a Civil War movie called “Seeing The Elephant: A American Civil War Movie” - Seeing The Elephant an Indie film feature centerpiece of the popular Wisconsin tourist attraction, The Fiery Trial Exhibit running daily at the Civil War Museum in Kenosha. A term the soldiers used to describe active duty, Seeing The Elephant, manipulates the senses and delivers its experience in the round, historically, close up. The newest permanent addition to The Fiery Trial exhibit, Seeing The Elephant, is an exceptional presentation and a Wisconsin attraction that is NOT to be missed!

But outside of war, the phrase continues to be used in the general “life experience” way.

This is a perfect example of our natural need to share. This piece is from a whole page of status updates, posted in the newspaper. So remember that social media is just the current form of us sharing. We used to do it in SOOOO many other ways. 

This really started to fall out of favor in the written communications in the early 1920s. Today, the only place we really see the phrase now is when speaking of seeing combat, and even that is relatively rare.

Fit As A Fiddle

Chris Muscato, a Professor of History at the University of Northern Colorado write of soldiers during the Civil War, “They had to be fit as a fiddle at all times, in good shape, because they never knew when they would see the elephant, or witness battle.”

OED: as fit as a fiddle: in good ‘form’ or condition and shows it a being first attested in the early 1600s. Similar phrases of the same time include fine as a farthing fiddle and fine as a fiddle. 

William Haughton · English-men for my money; or, A pleasant comedy, called, A woman will haue her will · 1st edition, 1616

  • This is excellent  in faith, (ynfayth), as fit as a Fiddle.

But even though the phrase was around beforehand, it was such a common term heard during the Civil War that we’d be remiss not to talk about it.

Great Civil War Projects: You Can Build Yourself

By Maxine Anderson

Life in Civil War America

By Michael J. Varhola

Interesting fact from this book is a statement on the phrase “War Is Hell”.

Even the Gettysburg National Military Park National Park Service gets in the action with their booklet: “The Life of a Civil War Soldier” Student Field Program. They have a Civil War Slang section in the booklet which has numerous common phrases of the time, including “Fit As A Fiddle” defined as “in good shape, healthy”.

These are just a few examples of Fit As a Fiddle being used during the Civil War. We’ve already done this phrase one, so I didn’t want to do too much about it here. It was definitely around a couple hundred years before that and has stuck around still being used in much the same way still today.

Lightning Round

I’m gonna read a little piece from a paper by  Jay Monaghan called Civil War Slang and Humor, written in 1957.

A great many of the slang expressions of a hundred years ago have

changed a little but are still recognizable. Thus, when a modern soldier

says 'liquidate" a Civil War veteran would say "salivate." To squeal on

a companion was called "blowing on him." The Civil War expression

"to run against a stump" is more commonly worded today as "to run against

a snag." In like manner, a studious cadet at West Point in the 1850's was

called a "dig" instead of the more modem "grind." ... The "grapevine," as understood in Civil War days, has survived, although latter day service men prefer "latrine humor" or "scuttle-butt."

And here is a note from Chris Muscato, at the University of Northern Colorado

Imagine that you're in an army camp. People are shouting for various objects, and often they'll use slang terms to describe daily items. A soldier looking for bark juice is hunting for liquor, maybe to wash down those sheet iron crackers, the hardtack soldiers ate. After all, a cup of rio (coffee) could be scarce as hen's teeth when rations were low.

Others soldiers might be preparing for battle, filling the beehive (knapsack) with hornets (bullets). Be careful if someone mentions having an Arkansas toothpick, however; that's just a really big knife. That person might be loaded for bear, armed to the teeth and ready to pick a fight.

A note about the hardtack, which the soldiers called sheet iron crackers. The Gettysburg National Battlefield Museum has an actual piece of hardtack on display picked up from the battlefield in 1863. No mold, no evidence of degradation. It’s Twinkies for Civil War era. It’ll last forever and it give you calories, but I’ll pass. I’ll put pictures on the Patron.

Favorite Things About the Phrase

I love the phrases that come out of wars, because there tends to be a mixing of many different backgrounds and dialects that are spending loads of time together. But despite the language changes that happen during times of war, we must remember for those men and women, language was the least of their thoughts. 

The American Civil War was the deadliest war in American history, with over 620,000 deaths. That’s just shy of all the deaths in all the other wars America has fought in combined. Slavery was at the heart of the war, and as a result of the war, slavery was outlawed in the United States. Brothers killed brothers, fathers killed sons. It was not a pretty picture. But it is part of the American history. We must remember that whenever a powerful group tries to take away basic dignity from a group of humans, there are other humans that will fight for their rights. And if we don’t stand up to protect those human rights during times of peace, it will inevitably lead to violence.


Dan: That about wraps us up for today. Thank you so much for joining us. Don’t forget to find us on your favorite podcasting app and leave a review. If you have a suggestion for an idiom or other turn of phrase, or just wanna chat, you can catch us on social media, mostly on Twitter, @bunnytrailspod or on Patreon at Of course, you can get links to everything we do at


If you’ve enjoyed this episode, you might check out another podcast that talks about history, Cutting Class Podcast. It’s a history podcast, and a comedy podcast. So… a History/Comedy podcast told by two high school teachers. Every Wednesday they bring you funny, amazing, unbelievable stories from the past to amuse and delight you for absolutely free! And if you don't like it, they’ll give you your money back - guaranteed!

Check them out at cutting class podcast dot com, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks again for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember... 

Words belong to their users.

Additional Sources Used Not already mentioned

Civil War Slang and Humor by Jay Monaghan - Christopher Muscato. Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

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