What was Mitt Romney talking about at the primary debate Saturday when he scolded Newt Gingrich for complaining about negative ads, saying "this ain't bean bag"? If you are certain age, you might have instantly thought of hacky sack, the game all the cute skaters played in eighth grade. But that seemed like a very unlikely reference for Romney to make. Then, on Monday, Gingrich used the phrase too, when Real Clear Politics noted Romney protested that calling him a corporate raider was unfair. Gingrich responded that President Obama's reelection campaign is "going to raise a billion dollars. They're not raising it -- as the governor himself said in your quote, 'This ain't bean bag.' They aren't going to raise a billion dollars for fun." Okay, guys, from context clues we can tell "this ain't bean bag" is sort of a synonym for "quit your moaning." But what is "bean bag"? We offer a young person's PSA.
Teagan Goddard explains that the quote is a reference to newspaper columnist Finley Peter Dunne, who in 1895 created the character Mr. Dooley. Dooley, an Irish-American, said things like, "Sure, politics ain't bean-bag. ‘Tis a man’s game, an’ women, childer, cripples an’ prohybitionists ‘d do well to keep out iv it." But that only explains what bean bag isn't (politics). What is it?! Urban Dictionary provides a lot of potential definitions, most of them dirty. We thought: maybe it's cornhole? That's what those perverts in the Ohio Valley call bean bag toss. Further investigation showed the term got really popular in the 1910s, according to Google's N-grams viewer, and began to die with flappers. But we still don't understand what bean bag is.
Sifting through newspaper archives reveals that playing bean bag is something sissy girls do. It was apparently a girls' sport, played in teams, highest scorer winning. "The two contests were as far apart as regards the playing of the national game as bean bag is from a football contest," the Manufacturers and Farmers Journal wrote about one good and one bad game of baseball on August 5, 1907. Lesson: bean bag is not like football.
The New York Times reported on April 28, 1914 that the Giants and the Phillies "did not care what they did with the ball at the Polo Grounds yesterday. They tossed it around like a lot of girls playing bean bag." Lesson: bean bag is not like good baseball. The Times really liked this line, because it reported on July 15, 1915 that a game between the Giants and the Pirates featured some "weird fielding," as "The whole infield tossed the ball around like girls playing bean-bag..." Lesson: bean bag is not like good fielding.
Finally, a report from the Youngstown Vindicator from August 4, 1910, offers the most revealing explanation: "Bean bag jump (the girls standing in a circle and jumping over a bean bag which a teacher swung at the end of a rope under their feet) Sara Hadette, South Side, First; Irene Quail, Baldwin Kindergarten, second." Sounds like Skip-it.
Conclusion: Bean bag is something wimpy little girls do, not manly men in politics. We wish Michelle Bachmann were still in the race.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.