In the TV show “The Dukes of Hazzard”, Deputy Enos Strate is always saying, “Possum on a gumbush!!!” whenever he gets surprised or excited. Does anyone know the origin of this expression? Did they just make it up for the show, or does the expression have pre-Enos roots somewhere in the real world?
They made it up for the show, as an example of “quaint yokel talk”.
AFAIK (Midwesterner speaking here) there’s no such thing in Southern American-speak as a “gumbush”, no tree or bush that is routinely referred to as a “gumbush”. However, as always, I welcome enlightenment from our RC-cola-drinkin’ moon pie-eatin’ Johnny Reb Dopers on this point.
The only real gumbush tree I can find is Relhania genistifolia, which is native to South Africa.
I remember my father occasionally singing (badly) a scrap of an old folk song with the lyrics “Possum up a sweetgum bush/Raccoon on the ground”. “Sweetgum bush” refers to a common tree in Louisiana. I’m not sure how common it is elsewhere, but a google search shows related songs from North Carolina and Kansas. “Rabbit up a sweetgum stump” appears in some variations.
My dear, departed, sainted mother (who wouldn’t tell me to “get stuffed” because she thought it too crass) used to employ the similar expression “go shinny up a gumstump” (meaning Get Stuffed), but I have no idea what or where the origin of this might have come from. She was born and bred in Nova Scotia, where there is nothing called by the name of “gum” except the chewy stuff you put in your mouth.
Nope, no sweetgum bush 'round here that I know of. There are plenty of sweetgum trees (Liquidamber styraciflua), but there’s no way to confuse those big suckers with a bush. Tall and fast growing, sweetgum trees reach a height of 40+ feet and a trunk circumference of about 4 feet. The seed pod is about half the size of a golfball, covered with spikes, and hell on bare feet. A picture can be found here:
The leaves measure about 7 inches across and are star-shaped - similar to a maple leaf - except that sweetgum leaves can have 5 to 7 points.
Opossums much prefer the persimmon tree.
That’s the same species I referenced earlier, Doc. Granted, they get really big in the right soil, but I’ve also seen very old gum trees that looked quite bush-like (particularly one in my father’s front yard–its seed-pods poked quite a few holes in my feet when I was a little tyke, and it’s still no more than 10 feet tall).
Other versions of the song do involve persimmon trees (which possums prefer for obvious regions). Boil Them Cabbages Down appears in several variations. The “possum up a gum” is also mentioned in the song “Finger Ring”.
The multiple variations and the presence of similar phrases in different songs suggest a common origin. I’ll keep nosing around.
BTW, I really do come from so far out in the boondocks that the owls hoot in the daytime and they keep possums for yard dogs.