From our childhood days, we always had a great way to answer questions such as What’s up? Or guess what? The standard answer was “chicken butt”! There are very few people who know where this has originated from. The originators of this response are actually merchants of the old times.
By butt here, we didn’t mean the back of the bird, but instead, it means the shoulder.
A long time back, butchers used to pack less prudent cuts such as shoulders, into barrels. It was done in order to store or ship them according to the needs. Such barrels were called butts since the late 14th century. As time passed by, this term started to apply to the meat cuts within the barrels.
It’s hard to trace when a chicken shoulder had the price of $0.05, though the historical data related to chicken’s cost is pretty easy to find, e.g., during the twenties hens were sold for something between $0.36 to $.38 (equivalent to $.43 today), but the cost of chicken during the Great Depression, had dropped to $0.21 per pound (equivalent to $3 today).
Why this expression became so popular
One theory as to why this expression become popular is dated back to the 1930s. In the year 1935, George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess was launched, and in this opera, Maria compared Sporting Life to a chicken. It invoked a merchants’ chant.
As far as we know, there is no evidence of anything that states why people started to answer What’s up or Guess what, as chicken butt! But, it became prominent after the Mississippian Charles G. Bell’s 1962 novel “The Married Land”.
There are various other works that seem to have taken inspiration from the novel to use some of its words. Several such words and entries have been used in various novels to make them more interesting and fun for the readers.
Till now, the documented evidence (which can be termed as a reliable and good source of information) seems to be from the early 20th century. This is somewhat not true though, and there are various other instances that make it seem like its been here since the 1960s. All we can say is that the merchant slang was first originated by the southern black-American culture, and it is with us for longer than it appears to be.
Though, the documented evidence indicates that the phrase never really had such a great audience until the late 1970s and even the 1980s, at this point in time, it has started to be considered as a great expression amongst the American youth.
One amazing fact that you would love to know about it is that there are various questions that can be answered with the chicken butt. Some of the slangs and variants include Guess what? and there are different rhyming offshoots such as “Guess why? Chicken thigh!” and “Guess who? Chicken tattoo!”
So, in short, chicken butt is a merchant slang that has been used by the American youth to answer varied questions in so many different ways. It may not be clear when it came to usage for the first time, but people, especially youngsters, are often seen using it.