cowbelly n

1  A wet sandy or boggy area with a yielding texture, ranging from “bouncy” to semi-liquid; the material of which such an area is formed, quicksand; rarely, the impression made by a person in such an area. Note: The inquiries that led to the 1980 quots below were conducted only in LA, so no conclusions can be drawn from the lack of evidence elsewhere. [Brit dial. EDD cow-belly (at cow sb. II.1.(11)) “a quicksand,” with a single ex from Lancashire, where it is still known; not recorded in SND, but attested in Scotland as early as 1891 (in form cow’s belly). See also DNE cow belly (at cow n) “bog-land.” Ult prob from the similarity between the texture of some quicksands, which behave like an elastic skin stretched over a fluid, and the belly of a cow.] Cf bendy bow n 2

1920 Camden Daily Courier (NJ) 28 Aug 10/4, Traffic Officer Paddy Miles . . had a thrilling experience down at Westville on an elderberry hunting expedition, when he sank un [sic] to his waist in swamps known as “cowbellies.” Paddy had to be fished out by comrades. 1968 DARE Tape LA46 (as of 1950s), We used to have a lot of fun in the cowbellies, we call ’em. Cowbellies are the soft mud out by the river, we call ’em cowbellies. And it’s about as soft as jello—not quite, but almost. We had a lot of experiences with that. . . We used to dive into ’em . . but only from standin’ on the ground. 1980 DARE File nwLA, One source who grew up at Gilliam, Louisiana . . on the Red River . . was familiar with the term “cowbelly” used in this context. He said after the river flooded, the fine sand on the river bank would be left with almost the consistency of quicksand; cows sank in it up to their bellies and had to be pulled out. Small boys, however, loved to play in it! Ibid neLA, Cowbelly—Swale or sunken area in Swamp. So called because of its soft texture. Ibid seLA, Cowbelly is the soft gluey sandy mud, something like quick-sand, that is left after the river goes down along the batture. Ibid seLA, A civil engineer in Belle Chasse had used the term at least 30 years ago in Placquemines Parish where he was raised. He said that when the soft mud along the river was exactly the right consistency, the children would run and jump into it. The forms left by their bodies were called cowbellies. Ibid seLA, The term “cowbelly” is very familiar to and used by the people who are native to St. John the Baptist Parish. . . A “cowbelly” designates an area of soft mud (sand) just above the water line of the Mississippi River. In my experience with “cowbellies” . . I have never come upon one that was natural. . . The making of a “cowbelly” is easy and was always a lot of fun. You select a section of beach just above the water line. You pat the sand with your hands—as you do this the sand becomes soft. . . The harder you pat, the softer the area becomes. Once the “cowbelly” is started one uses his feet—and several people join in. I have seen people sink up to their necks in “cowbellies.” Ibid seLA, To me, this [= a cowbelly] is an area which is ‘bouncy,’ but into which one does not sink. I knew it in New Orleans during my childhood (first heard about 1948).

2  in combs cowbelly shoe, cowbelly brogan, also absol: A coarse work shoe or boot; hence comb cowbelly shod wearing such shoes. [From the material of which they are (or were) made, a relatively cheap type of leather.] Sth

1855 Simms Forayers 239 SC (as of 1780s) [Black], I no bring ’em up, for ’sturb you in you sleeping, and mek’ noise, wid he cowbelly shoes. 1886 Montgomery Advt. (AL) 27 June 3/1 [Black], Ef hit’s been a long dry drought, yo’ shoes ’ll be kivered wid dust tell dey look like deze yer ole yaller cow-belly brogans what we all use to wah fo’ freedom come out. 1894 Atlanta Constitution (GA) 10 Mar 4/5, The old yell will then convince Mr. Atkinson that he is not the choice of ‘the whole people,’ and that yell will come not from ‘the Atlanta ring,’ but from the wool hat, cowbelly shod boys of the rural districts. 1896 Morning Times (Washington DC) 14 Jan 2/7 SC, He wore . . grey woolen pants down to the ankles, grey woolen socks, showing between the southern extremity of his pants and what is known in the country as “cow belly” shoes. 1966 DARE (Qu. W11, Men’s low, rough work shoes) Inf SC10, Cowbelly. 1980 DARE File cwLA [Black], Whenever daddy tells him to go out to do any work outside and it’s raining or muddy or something, Danny always says, “I can’t go ’till I put my cowbellies on”—he means his old brogans or his boots.

Etymological Supplement:

1891 Aberdeen Journal 5 Oct 6/5 Scotland, It would be very difficult for the present young generation of Portsoyans to conceive what kind of a place the Bogs was between forty and fifty years ago. In several parts there was nothing but an apparently unfathomable depth of fine mud, covered over with a thin, tough, elastic skin. We called these parts “cows’ bellies,” and it was our delight to congregate in the Bogs, and bound up and down on one of these wonderful “cows’ bellies.”


2004 Baldwin–Baldwin The Motorway Achievement 1.505 Lancashire Engl [as of 1956], As soon as excavation commenced on the southern cutting of the Ribble Valley, it was obvious that there were large quantities of unsuitable material. These were in layers of very plastic, silty material, locally known as “Cow Belly” which were thixotropic and could not be dewatered.


2021 DARE File—Internet Lancashire Engl, Deep Cabaret emerged fully-formed from the intertidal mudflats and cowbelly quicksands of Morecambe Bay creating an entrancement of riffs and drones.