Tag Archives: Jesse Stuart

‘That Won’t Hold Shucks’

My seventh-grade teacher was nobody’s fool. Having grown up in the mountains of western North Carolina, Margaret Orren knew well the regional tendency to exaggerate. (She was a cousin of famed Appalachian storyteller Jesse Stuart.) Yet she was not about to be taken in by a student’s prevarications. If you began spinning a yarn about your truancy or your innocence in the latest schoolyard prank, she would fix her steely gray eyes on you and say, “That won’t hold shucks!”

The expression came from the Appalachian custom of stuffing a cloth tick full of corn shucks to serve as a mattress. After enough fitful nights, the tick would become so worn and torn that it could no longer hold corn shucks, though each one was about the size of a man’s hand. Then it was useless as a mattress. So when Mrs. Orren said a student’s statement wouldn’t “hold shucks,” she meant it was so obviously flawed that it wouldn’t convince anyone.

Southern folks sometimes say that deceiving someone with a lie is “shucking” them, which may have inspired the urban street-slang expression, “shucking and jiving.” I doubt that this phrase descended from the corn-shuck mattress idea.

The image of a worn-out, useless mattress seems the perfect analogy for an unconvincing, threadbare story, though. Perhaps we should start using it again in this era of blustering politicians and “fake news.”

Did I hear the allegation about Senator So-and-So? Yes, but it won’t hold shucks.