Favorite

Of mules and men 

What is the origin of 'mule skinner'? I can't find it in my dictionary, but I've heard people singing about mule skinners all my life. My wife Sally says that Mule Skinner was a football player at Texas A&M in the Bear Bryant days, but I think she's hanging noodles on my ears. — Gerry Mander

Coincidentally, this same question came up in the office the other day, and, like Gerry, I was surprised to find that my dictionary was not very forthcoming. Random House says only that mule skinner is an informal name for a "muleteer". A muleteer is defined separately as "a driver of mules." That muleteer gets more respect than mule skinner suggests muleteer is the more "correct" or more popular form, but I don't believe that's so. I never heard anybody singing about muleteers.

I'd always thought the skin of mule skinner had to do with frequent and expert use of the whip. But a website called "Hillbilly Savants" disagrees, and, unlike Random House, the website has a substantial entry on mule skinner, sometimes spelling it as one word, sometimes as two:

"A muleskinner is a professional mule driver whose sole purpose was to keep the mules moving. The term 'skinner' is slang for someone who might 'skin' or outsmart a mule. Mules have a characteristic of being very stubborn so outsmarting them to make them move used skill, wit and a type of determination."

The mule-driven freight industry was big in America before the invention of the steam engine. Jimmie Rodgers recorded a song about a muleskinner in 1931, and it's been covered by many people since, including Bill Monroe, Dolly Parton and Van Morrison. Rodgers called it "Blue Yodel #8," but it's more often referred to as "Mule Skinner Blues." (Frankie Laine's '50s hit, "Mule Train," is unrelated.) We'll be hearing the Christmas version again shortly. "Reindeer Skinner Blues" is my second-favorite Christmas song, right after "Jingle Bell Rock."

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Doug Smith

  • The L word and the C word

    I was excited to see the newspaper headline "Bielema liberal." "After all those neo-Nazis, we've finally got a coach who thinks right," I told friends. "I wonder if he belongs to the ADA."
    • May 1, 2014
  • Who's exasperated?

    Jim Newell was gripped by exasperation himself after reading this item in the business section. "Exacerbated" is the word the writer wanted, he sagely suggests.
    • Apr 24, 2014
  • We will run no race before it's ripe

    "What year would Oaklawn recognize as its 100th anniversary? After all, Oaklawn's advertising material is ripe with 'Since 1904,' but it's widely reported the first race wasn't run until 1905."
    • Apr 17, 2014
  • More »

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated itsĀ 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Words

  • The L word and the C word

    I was excited to see the newspaper headline "Bielema liberal." "After all those neo-Nazis, we've finally got a coach who thinks right," I told friends. "I wonder if he belongs to the ADA."
    • May 1, 2014
  • Who's exasperated?

    Jim Newell was gripped by exasperation himself after reading this item in the business section. "Exacerbated" is the word the writer wanted, he sagely suggests.
    • Apr 24, 2014
  • We will run no race before it's ripe

    "What year would Oaklawn recognize as its 100th anniversary? After all, Oaklawn's advertising material is ripe with 'Since 1904,' but it's widely reported the first race wasn't run until 1905."
    • Apr 17, 2014
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
  • Pay attention

    If anyone thinks that a crisis with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Football for UA Little Rock

    • He's BSC. Students and tuition-paying parents should be VERY vocal that a football program won't…

    • on July 23, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • I have attended community meetings about the recent spike in violence in LR, and police…

    • on July 22, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • Adawson's comments attribute the plight of black people in the United States to the War…

    • on July 22, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation