Out in the sticks

One of the expressions we discussed this week at the French conversation group was out in the sticks, which is en pleine cambrousse (‘in full countryside’) or au milieu de la cambrousse (‘in the middle of the countryside’).

La cambrousse comes from the Provençal cambrousso (hovel, storeroom), from cambra (bedroom). The sense of ‘province / countryside’ perhaps comes from the slang of travelling entertainers (saltimbanques) [source].

The expression ‘in the sticks’ was apparently coined in the USA and was first used in the Florence Times Daily in November 1897

… he gathered from 1 1/2 acres this year 21 barrels of corn. If any man “away in the sticks” can beat this, in the language of “Philander Doesticks,” we exclaim, “let him stand forward to de rear.”

At first it was associated mainly with baseball and ‘the sticks’ referred to exhibition games played in county locations. Later it came to refer to any out-of-the-way location.

Other ways to express this in English include ‘in the middle of nowhere’, ‘the back of beyond’ – are there others you know in English or other languages?

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This entry was posted in English, Etymology, French, Language.

16 Responses to Out in the sticks

  1. Jim M. says:

    “Boondocks” has an interesting etymology: Tagalog bundok, “mountain.”

  2. dreaminjosh says:

    My mother would describe out-of-the-way places as “at the end of all creation”. In my age group, though, a lot of people use “B.F.E.” which stands for “Bum F—ing Egypt”. I have no idea where this expression originated but it always makes me laugh when I hear it.

  3. Michel says:

    Other expressions in French include such niceties as : au milieu de nulle part, dans le trou du cul du monde (oups !), à Pétaouchnock, dans un coin paumé, au fin fond de la Creuse, chez les pedzouilles … to use with appropriate care.

  4. Lev says:

    In Hebrew there are some interesting loanwords for this: תיז אלנבי / “tiz elnabi” comes from Arabic and means “the Prophet’s arse”. פיזדלוך / “Pizdeloch” is a combination of a Russian and a German word meaning “vagina hole”.

  5. Barry says:

    In the US, “boondocks” is sometimes shortened to “boonies,” as in “He lives (out) in the boonies.”

    I haven’t encountered “B.F.E.,” but I have heard a variant: “He lives in Bumf***, Indiana,” meaning a rural location in that state.

    “Backwoods” (adj.) refers to a remote location in a wooded area, as in “backwoods Vermont.”

    And Australian English has “outback,” from which have come (1) a model of Subaru automobile (at least for the US market) and (2) a restaurant chain in the US, Outback Steakhouse. Also, “beyond the black stump,” which gave Nevil Shute a title for one of his books.

  6. Dennis King says:

    We regularly shortened “boondocks” to “boonies” in California. Same in Hawai‘i. My favorite equivalent in Irish is calling a place “ar chúl éaga”, literally “at the backside/farside of death”. The French version of the Three Monks ends with “je vous laisse seuls dans ce trou paumé”.

  7. Chris Waugh says:

    “Beyond the black stump”, although that strikes me as rather dated Australian. In New Zealand “Eketahuna” plays the same role as “Timbuktu” as that stereotypical remote place.

  8. Chris Miller says:

    I was going to add the “boondocks” definition, but I see I’ve been beaten to it. The funny thing about it is that there is a song from the 1979s with the chorus “down in the boondocks” repeated — which of course makes absolutely no sense if you know the Tagalog word.

  9. Jim M. says:

    Interesting … I’ve heard “Buttf***, Nebraska. Odd that the British “bum” would be used in the U.S.

  10. Barry says:

    Re: Jim M.

    I am of Anglo descent (forebears arrived in America from 17th to late 19th centuries) and born in 1951 and raised just north of Boston, Mass. I agree that “bum” seems more British than American, but “bum” was probably the first term I learned for the buttocks. And I admit that I might be confusing “bum” and “butt” in my recall of the “Bum/buttf***, Indiana” expression.

    Under that English influence, as youngsters my sister and I called our mother “Mommy,” rhyming with “mummy,” not with “Tommy.”

  11. Dennis King says:

    A remote or backward location can be called “East Jesus”, or variants thereof, in the US.

  12. Petréa says:

    My SO, who’s from the Los Angeles area, told me once about the similar expression “out in the tules”.

    (Tule = /tu’-lij/, also “tule reed”, which grows in the rivers and wetlands of California. The only tule-related turn of phrase I learned, growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, was “tule fog”, meaning the thick valley fog that comes off the Sacramento River.)

  13. Juan Shimmin says:

    This isn’t quite the same thing, but it’s related… it’s fairly suburban where I grew up, but “the armpit of nowhere” crops up for particularly tedious towns. Like mine. Less to do with physical remoteness, more just a lack of interesting features.

  14. Zeke says:

    In Hebrew there’s a cute expression: סוף העולם שמאלה/sof ha’olam smola. It’s as though someone made a noun out of driving directions. It sort of means: “left at the end of the world”

  15. Qcumber says:

    Couldn’t cambrousse result from camp / champ “field” + brousse “bush”?

  16. Rauli says:

    In Finnish, we say “Jumalan selän takana” (behind God’s back), “keskellä ei mitään” (in the middle of nowhere), “korvessa” (in the thick, swampy forest), “Perähikiä” (an imaginary place name combining the word perä, which means both ‘far end’ and ‘butt’, and Hikiä, which is an actual place name).