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View Full Version : What Does "Brer," as in "Brer Rabbit," Mean?


HeyHomie
04-22-2003, 10:29 PM
Mrs. HeyHomie and I disagree about this.

What does Uncle Remus mean when he says "Brer Rabbit?" I say "Brer" is a lazy way of saying the French word frère, "brother," as if to say "Brother Rabbit."

Mrs. HeyHomie says that "Brer" is a lazy way of saying "briar," as in "Briar Rabbit."

Anybody have the Straight Dope™?

Q.E.D.
04-22-2003, 10:32 PM
Brother.

FatBaldGuy
04-22-2003, 10:36 PM
I always thought it was a lazy contraction of the English word "brother".

Since a briar is a prickly, thorny plant (as in "Please don't throw me in the briar patch, Brer Bear"), I don't think that this is the correct meaning.

ajaye
04-22-2003, 10:39 PM
Originally posted by Q.E.D.
Brother.

Yes. It's a contraction, usually spelled "B'rer" and pronounce "brear".

AJ

ajaye
04-22-2003, 10:41 PM
Of course, that should be "Br'er"...sheesh

Balthisar
04-23-2003, 05:13 AM
What's the explanation of the "briar" meaning? I was all ready to come in here saying "briar" because I'm sure I read that a long, long time ago. Rabbits and other animals live in briars, right?

WotNot
04-23-2003, 05:47 AM
Brer Rabbit was “born ’n’ bred in a briar patch” in the Tar Baby story, but I doubt you’d find many bears in there. Briars is prickly!

Brer = Brother. Believe it Bro!

everton
04-23-2003, 05:54 AM
Originally posted by Balthisar
What's the explanation of the "briar" meaning? I was all ready to come in here saying "briar" because I'm sure I read that a long, long time ago. Rabbits and other animals live in briars, right?
There are at least two reasons why Brer doesn't mean briar in the context of these stories:

1. All three animals are called Brer – Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox and Brer Bear. Brer is used as a familiar form of address, not a reference to the place where any of them lives.

2. Brer Rabbit begs not to be thrown into the briar – it's not the place where he lives, but a place it would hurt to go. In fact that turns out to be a trick on his part (he can escape from the briar easily enough), but the other two certainly don't recognise it as his natural habitat.

According to Merriam-Webster (http://m-w.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?book=Dictionary&va=brier), "briar" is a variant spelling of "brier" and is defined as follows:

Main Entry: 1bri·er
Pronunciation: 'brI(-&)r
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English brere, from Old English brEr
Date: before 12th century
: a plant (as of the genera Rosa, Rubus, and Smilax) with a woody and thorny or prickly stem; also : a mass or twig of these

It can also be used for a pipe stem made from the wood of such a plant. The dictionary doesn't define Brer because it's a slang or dialect word, but yes it does mean brother.

Stonebow
04-23-2003, 08:18 AM
In all of my Afam history/lit classes, the prof always said that it was a shortened form of 'briar.' i'm sure that there are alternate meanings, or meanings that grew out of the slang.

Gary T
04-23-2003, 08:24 AM
Originally posted by HeyHomie
Mrs. HeyHomie and I disagree about this.

What does Uncle Remus mean when he says "Brer Rabbit?" I say "Brer" is a lazy way of saying the French word frère, "brother," as if to say "Brother Rabbit."

Mrs. HeyHomie says that "Brer" is a lazy way of saying "briar," as in "Briar Rabbit."

Anybody have the Straight Dope™?

Well, at least you both lose. :)

Keep in mind that these stories are told in the dialect spoken by Uncle Remus. It doesn't include any French. As mentioned above, "brer" is a slurred way of saying "brother," just as "bimeby" is a slurred way of saying "by and by."

Since he talks about the "briar patch," there's no reason to think that he can't say "briar."

Gary T
04-23-2003, 08:27 AM
Originally posted by Stonebow
In all of my Afam history/lit classes, the prof always said that it was a shortened form of 'briar.' i'm sure that there are alternate meanings, or meanings that grew out of the slang.

I think you'll find that the explanation lies not in alternative meanings, but in your professor being, well, wrong.

everton
04-23-2003, 08:41 AM
Originally posted by Stonebow
In all of my Afam history/lit classes, the prof always said that it was a shortened form of 'briar.' i'm sure that there are alternate meanings, or meanings that grew out of the slang.
Read what Gary T wrote. Perhaps you misunderstood your professor? Also, it doesn't explain why Brer would be used for the fox and the bear as well as the rabbit.

This version (http://crt.state.la.us/folklife/edu_ss200_rabbit_tarbaby.html) also mentions Brer Tarbaby.

Stonebow
04-23-2003, 10:01 AM
Originally posted by Gary T
I think you'll find that the explanation lies not in alternative meanings, but in your professor being, well, wrong.

Believe me, I am completely open to that alternate theory as well. :-)

summerbreeze
04-23-2003, 10:24 PM
As a southerner, I think "brer" is a sort of shitty way of writing what was considered black dialect back in the day. I know that I say "brutha". Lots of writing in that era spelled words phonetically in a feeble attempt at humor -- but the phonetic spellings were actually the correct pronunciation! -- "cud" for "could", "tern" for "turn", etc.

I was brought up on Uncle Remus stories & don't have a big quarrel with them, tho I didn't read them to my children.

Not a hijack -- but my local newspaper, in 1903, published a front-page feature about how amusing it is that black people have names such as "White", "Green", "Gray", etc. Made no mention of white people who are named "Black", "Brown," "Gray," "Green," "Blue," "Redd".

Gary T
04-23-2003, 11:03 PM
Originally posted by summerbreeze
As a southerner, I think "brer" is a sort of shitty way of writing what was considered black dialect back in the day....Lots of writing in that era spelled words phonetically in a feeble attempt at humor...

This comment puzzles me--everything I read indicates that Harris was highly regarded for accurately (not shittily) portraying what was indeed (not what was "considered") black dialect in his younger days. His rendering of the dialect is considered an important contribution to folklore, not an attempt at humor at all.

Br'er Lapin
04-23-2003, 11:29 PM
I have no idea.

- Bre'r Lappin
(who happens to be female)

summerbreeze
04-24-2003, 08:49 AM
I wasn't dissin' Harris really, just saying that it was commonplace to try to replicate dialects of all kinds in a manner that seems over-the-top today. Southerns don't pronounce Brer with a hard "r". It sounds more like the "bro" we see used today, closer to the first syllable of "brother". My younger children call their oldest brother "Bro", rhymes with "duh". Sho enuf, hunny chile.

When I say that last sentence out loud, it's actually "shur enuf, hunny chile." Doesn't everybody pronounce "honey" as if it were spelled hunny?
Doesn't everybody pronounce "enough" as if it were spelled enuf?

moriah
04-24-2003, 08:34 PM
Originally posted by ajaye
Yes. It's a contraction, usually spelled "B'rer" and pronounce "brear".

AJ
I dissent. While the 'brear' pronunciation is common, I'm betting it's done by people who don't realize that's it's a contraction of 'brother.'

As a contraction of brother, it is pronounced more like [bruh' er], rhyming closer to fir and using the apostrophe as an indication of a guttural stop, just like people pronounce 'Clinton' like [clih' in].

I'd think you'd be hard pressed to find anyone in the South who says, "Good morning, 'brear.'"

G'day.

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