Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Phrases: Pumpkin Eaters

I first heard this expression in a Jethro Tull song. I have come up with my own definition; perhaps I'll follow up with some actual research to see what (if any) provenance can be determined. The phrase is the title of a 1964 movie about a woman who stays pregnant as often as she can, but I think my definition has more utility.

By my lights, a "pumpkin eater" is a gullible person, one who (figuratively) can swallow most anything, and doesn't seem to be daunted by whatever the pain of doing so is.

It helps if it fits in with prior goals or worldview, and of course it helps to have a scattershot approach to reality. Some possible examples could include: people who think all of Michael Moore's work, all the X-Files, all the utterances of a given politician, or all the Late Night Coast to Coast radio shows are great and beyond criticism.

The much-bandied term "idiotarian" is a bit more pejorative, but I'm not sure it's stronger in meaning. I like "pumpkin eater" because it hasn't become fightin' words. Yet. I think.

Note that [as I want to use it] the term doesn't denote a country bumpkin [EDIT: or does it? Etymologically, it very well might. See comments], just someone who is, as Viv Stanshall said in the spoken-word piece "Big Shot", "credulous as hell."

Eric Drexler used to talk about something he called "bogophilia". On that, more RSN.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like your definition of what a pumpkin eater is and think that the type of person who blindly follows any crowd and sacrifices anything not on principal but to socially resemble a particular popular ideological movement or fad.

unfortunately I think that a pumpkin eater is in actuality a reference to an uneducated American commoner ... like a hillbilly or any bumpkin now moved from America's countryside en mass into America's inner cities ... I think the term is more akin to the 'unwashed masses' than the 'sheep' you described ...

31 August, 2008 21:49  
Blogger Nortius Maximus said...

You know, I suspect you're right. "Pumpkin Eater" also appears in the children's rhyme "Peter, Peter", which is reputed to be of American origin.

Pumpkin rhymes with "bumpkin", too.

So the "credulous" meaning is I like is only an imputation of the probable "hick" root meaning.

Hmm. Following your thought, the kids' rhyme could be taken to mean something like this, in modern terms:

"This bumpkin came to the city, couldn't make enough money to support his wife in customary style; now they live in a pop-up trailer in an RV park in a rundown part of town."

Thanks, anonymous!

01 September, 2008 09:21  

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