Strange bedfellows of the ’30s: Hemp and yeggs

What caught my eye on the 1935 front page of The Pilot of Southern Pines — thank you, NC Digital Heritage Center — was this headline:




Yeggs? Hemp?

The Google Ngram Viewer charts the abrupt rise and fall of yegg as slang for safecracker or burglar. First known usage 1903, peaked in the ’30s, origin unknown. Dashiell Hammett called on it frequently, as in “I don’t know why you keep talking about the Senator like he was a yegg…” (“The Glass Key,” 1931).  So later did Bugs Bunny (“Easter Yeggs,” 1947) and Daffy Duck (“Golden Yeggs,” 1950). What a loss to the idiom of insult!

According to the North Carolina Gazetteer, the Moore County town of Hemp bore that name only from 1935 to 1943. Before, it was Mechanicks Hill, Mechanicsville and Elise. Ever since, in honor of the local textile mill owner, it has been Robbins (although Hemp Street survives). In recent years the town has been most prominent as a pottery center and as the hometown of John Edwards.

If you don’t mind the design resemblance to the Dr. Bronner’s label, provides an entertaining and informative history of North Carolina’s industrial hemp trade.