Posted by: Jack Henry | March 1, 2022

Editor’s Corner: Frosty Hot Tub

Good morning! At the turn of the new year, one of you mentioned that “the frost was on the hot tub,” which you said reminded you of the phrase “the frost is on the pumpkin.” Then you asked me where that was from and if it meant something in particular. I thought, “It just means that the weather was getting colder.” Then I started asking around, wondering if I was missing something.

First, a coworker told me the same thing, “The phrase means winter is coming.” Well, dang! The folks in Game of Thrones made it sound much more ominous than a frosty pumpkin! Next, I asked my mom during our daily walk. “Are you familiar with this phrase, ‘the frost is on the pumpkin’?” She replied, “Winter is coming.” Then she chided me and said, “You people in San Diego don’t know what frost is, do you? Poor babies. People up north and on the East Coast know. And if your pumpkin is sporting frost, you’d better start wearing a coat and gloves!”

Of course, that wasn’t enough for me. I know what frost and pumpkins are, but what about this saying? Indeed, it is a more poetic way of saying that the weather is getting colder or that seasons are changing. You know exactly what time of the year it means by the visual: sometime after Halloween and moving toward winter (let’s say early November).

But the phrase doesn’t just sound poetic. It’s a line from a famous poem by American poet James Whitcomb Riley. Here is the first stanza of “When the Frost Is on the Punkin”:

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,

And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock,

And the clackin’ of the guineys, and the cluckin’ of the hens,

And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence;

O, it’s then’s the times a feller is a-feelin’ at his best,

With the risin’ sun to greet him from a night of peaceful rest,

As he leaves the house, bareheaded, and goes out to feed the stock,

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock.

According to Wikipedia, Riley, born in the Midwest in 1849, was not a lover of school. He spent a lot of time in trouble and didn’t graduate from the eighth grade until he was 20. Because of that, he tended to write his humorous and sentimental poems (nearly 1,000 of them) in the local dialect. Critics “pointed to his poor education as the reason for his success in writing; his prose was written in the language of common people which spurred his popularity.”

Riley influenced “the creation of a Midwestern cultural identity” and “contributed to the Golden Age of Indiana Literature.” His popularity with people earned him the nickname “The Hoosier Poet.”

I bet you didn’t suspect a frosty hot tub would lead us here!

Hot or cold, enjoy your day!

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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