Adventures in buggery and beanbags

On ADS-L, Wilson Gray reported getting an announcement of a contest in which the prizes were Sutliff cornhole boards. Wilson was taken aback by this; obviously, the cornhole of cornhole board wasn’t the cornhole (an anatomical noun and a related sex-act verb) he was familiar with. Respondents pointed Wilson to information about a lawn game — called, among other things, cornhole — in which participants toss weighted bags at round holes in boards.

From NOAD:

noun cornhole: 1 a game in which small bags filled with dried corn are tossed at a target consisting of an inclined wooden platform with a hole at one end: many are introduced to cornhole at a tailgate or family outing. 2 vulgar slang the anus.

verb cornhole: [with object] vulgar slang have anal intercourse with (someone).

So there’s the vulgar cornhole ‘anus, asshole’ or ‘to bugger’ — call this anal cornhole — which is about a hundred years old, and there’s cornhole naming a lawn game — call this ludic cornhole, which is on the order of 35 years old. What they share is the round hole and the act of putting something through that hole: ludic cornhole is clearly a metaphorical development from anal cornhole, a development encouraged by the fact that the bags in the game are often filled with dried corn (beanbags will serve as well, and plastic pellets, though not traditional, make a durable alternative to corn or beans as stuffing).

Apparently, most people who use cornhole as the name of a game are aware of — often, exult in — the raunchiness of anal cornhole. Well, the game is popular on college campuses and at tailgate parties at sporting events, where it accompanies or is part of drinking games, so it’s already a pretty rowdy affair.

From Andy Bach on ADS-L:

In Wisconsin, the term is used (in place of “bean bag throw” or “tailgate toss”) supposedly because the bags were once filled w/ dried corn kernels but it’s used by everybody I know with full knowledge of the innuendo.

Details follow, plus some speculations on the origins of anal cornhole: why corn?

[Added on 12/19/17: On the history of the game and of the term cornhole, see the extensive discussion on Peter Jensen Brown’s Early Sports and Pop Culture Blog on 8/27/16, in “Parlor Quoits, Bean-Bags, and Faba Baga – a History of ‘Cornhole’ (the Game)”.]

I’ll start with the game, from Wikipedia:

(#1) A cornhole board and bags

Cornhole (also known as Baggo, bags, dummy boards, bean bag [or beanbag] toss, dadhole, doghouse, Arse-bag, Sack Toss, or corn hole) is a lawn game in which players take turns throwing bags of corn (or bean bags) at a raised platform [a cornhole board] with a hole in the far end. A bag in the hole scores 3 points, while one on the platform scores 1 point. Play continues until a team or player reaches (or exceeds) the score of 21.

… [History:] The game described in Heyliger de Windt’s 1883 patent for “Parlor Quoits” displays most of the features of the modern game of “cornhole”, but with a square hole instead of a round one. Quoits is a game similar to horseshoes, played by throwing steel discs at a metal spike. De Windt’s patent followed several earlier “parlor quoits” patents that sought to recreate quoit game-play in an indoor environment. His was the first to use bean-bags and a slanted board with a hole as the target.

He sold the rights to the game to a Massachusetts toy manufacturer that marketed a version of the game under the name “Faba Baga” [Latin faba ‘bean’]. Unlike the modern game, which has one hole and one size of bags, a “Faba Baga” board had two different-sized holes, worth different point values, and provided each player with one extra-large bag per round, which scored double points.

The modern game of Cornhole [with that name], known more commonly as “Bean Bags” or “Bags” in the Chicago area, was likely spread after an article on how to make the boards was published in Popular Mechanics magazine in September 1974. The game spread in Chicago, Illinois and the Northwest region of Indiana in the late 70s and early 80s.

The West-Side of Cincinnati, Ohio is considered one of the centers of the modern resurgence and renewed popularity of the game; more specifically Harrison, Ohio. It is widely popular at tailgate events throughout the Midwest and has recently become a nationwide favorite, with national championships covered on ESPN.

… The history and resurgence of the game was documented in the 2011 film, Brotherhood of Bags: Cornholing America.

The film title plays on ludic cornhole vs. anal cornhole. Raunchier yet: these cornhole boards from the Cornhole Worldwide company:

(#2) Gender distinction reinforced by color (pink, blue) and symbols (the mirror of Venus, the spear of Mars)

Now on the vulgar slang cornhole, from the Historical Dictionary of American Slang:

noun cornhole: 1. the anus – usu. in the context of homosexual anal copulation. 1916-22 Cary Sexual Vocab. III s.v. human body: The Anus…ass hole…corn hole. 1969 Corder Slave Ship 210: Try one of the bucks’ cornholes. 1977 Coover Public Burning 115: McCarthy’s got such a cactus up his cornhole. 1980 in Nat. Lampoon (Jan. 1981) 10: And if he ever gets out there won’t be an unviolated cornhole between here and Philadelphia. 2. an act of anal copulation. 1970 Southern Blue Movie 132: How’s about a quick cornhole.

verb cornhole 1. to engage in active anal copulation with… Also cornhaul. 1938 “Justinian” Amer. Sex. 17: Corn-Hole v. U.S. 1920 – for bugger. To practise pederasty. Low coll. … a1973-87 F.M. Davis Livin’ the Blues 36: Anal intercourse was [called] “cornholing” [in Kansas, ca1920]

So the noun refers specifically to ‘the male anus viewed as a sexual organ’ (see this posting). The noun hole ‘anus’ goes back to Chaucer, but where does the corn come from?

My speculation is that the operative image is of a corncob, as an implement of anal penetration (easily available in corn-growing regions) or as a symbol of the penis in buggery. Eventually, HDAS reports, we get a

verb corncob: 1. cornhole. 1975 Knoxville TN man age ca32: There’ve been many inmates attacked down at the jail. They call it corncobbin’.

And I recall a usage of a college roommate from Kentucky, ca. 1960: the exclamation of surprise Well, bugger me with a corncob! I’ve found only one occurrence of the exclamation in print, from much later, but set in a much earlier fictional world — and reproducing my roommate’s version exactly. From The War of Knives by Broos Campbell (McBooks Press, 2007):


A bit of plot background from

When Matty Graves, acting lieutenant in the newly formed U.S. Navy, agrees to become a spy in the French colony of Saint-Dómingue, he plunges headlong into a brutal world of betrayal and double-cross beyond anything he’s ever known.

In any case, the speculation is that a cornhole is a hole for a corncob, a receptacle for (degrading) penetration by a familiar agricultural object.

[Added 12/31/17, a comment from Jeff Shaumeyer:

I am one of those people who, as you’ve described, is old enough that the word “cornhole”, used in reference to a game, causes me mild consternation. (I might add that the cartoon farmer depicted on this box as quite possibly rubbing his sore behind does nothing to assuage said consternation.

[AMZ: elevators?])

2 Responses to “Adventures in buggery and beanbags”

  1. David Hause Says:

    “Corn” might be from the supposed use of corncobs as post-defecation cleaners.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

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