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calf-rope, holler v phr Also call calf-rope, cry ~ say ~ yell ~; also calf-rope exclam [Origin uncert] chiefly S Midl, Gulf States See Map Cf uncle n 2
Esp in children’s games: to give in, surrender; to capitulate.
1878 Eggleston Roxy 44 sIN, [They] pummeled each other in a friendly way until the challenger, finding that his antagonist had entirely stopped respiration, was forced to “hollow calf-rope,” that is, to signify by gestures that he was beaten. 1906 DN 3.129 nwAR, Calf-rope [kæfrop]. . . I give up, I surrender. “I’ll give it to him till he yells calf-rope.” 1908 DN 3.296 eAL, wGA, I’ll make him say calf-rope. 1933 AmSp 8.1.31 nwTX, In an argument, rassel, or any sort of contest, a fellow could acknowledge his opponent’s superiority, and usually stop hostilities immediately, by saying calf-rope. In extreme cases, however, the conquered was made to spell it. Ibid 49 Ozarks, Holler calf-rope. . . To acknowledge oneself beaten. When one boy throws another down in a wrestling match, the defeated wrestler hollers calf-rope, usually by crying “enough” or “I give up.” 1942 Faulkner Go Down 109 nMS, That I reneged, cried calf-rope, sold my birthright, betrayed my blood, for what he calls not peace but obliteration, and a little food. 1950 WELS Suppl., Calf-rope [a response to the question] “Do you surrender?” [in] children’s tussles. At branding time new calves were chased, roped, trussed and rendered helpless for branding. Hence: “Calf-rope.” Used in Texas. 1954 Harder Coll. cwTN, Calf rope—[The truce term in] a children’s game in which the winner forces the loser to scream “calf rope,” usually after the loser has had his arm twisted until it is almost sprained or broken. Ibid, To holler calf rope—to give up, surrender. “I made ’im yell calf rope. I beat ’at old head in for ’im.” c1960 Wilson Coll. csKY, Calf rope—Nuff! 1964 Wallace Frontier Life 97 cwOK (as of c1900), She [mother] said that someone “yelled calf rope” if he had given up or called for help. 1965–70 DARE (Qu. EE20, When two boys are fighting, and the one who is losing wants to stop, he calls out, “_____.”) 53 Infs, chiefly S Midl, Gulf States, Calf-rope; AL20, Calf-rope (old), uncle; GA86, I made him holler calf-rope; KY89, You win, calf-rope—when somebody twists your arm; LA2, Calf-rope [FW: Inf’s high school aged grandson had not heard of this]; OK31, Uncle (now), calf-rope (when I was young); TN8, Calf-rope (old-fashioned), help (modern); TN16, Let’s quit, I give up, calf-rope (more in rassling than in fighting); TX39, Calf-rope—This is what you make the other fellow say if you want to stop and you’re winning; very humiliating to have to say this; I give; TX42, Calf-rope—winner makes loser say this, or offers to stop pummeling; king’s ex; TX45, Calf-rope (old-fashioned) = I give up. 1976 Brown Gloss. Faulkner 44, Calf rope. . . One child seizes a handful of another’s hair (probably originally a girl’s pigtail) and keeps pulling until the victim says “calf rope.” From this usage, to say calf rope gets the general meaning of to “give in, surrender, admit defeat.”