- Nov 26, 2016
- central NC
Thanks to Scarlett O’Hara, Southern women have been teased about “pitching” hissy fits for years (Please note we never “have” or “throw” them). While Scarlett certainly brought prominence to hissy fits and the Old South, the general consensus is that nobody knows the origin for certain. Either way, I thought it was time to give them their due so here goes.
I have traced the word, hissy, back to an 1884 periodical called Johnsoniana (G.Bell & Sons). It contained the word in a single sentence, "'He endeavored to raise a hissy among you,' says he, 'but without effect I believe.'"
The site, wisegeek.com, presents a good summary of the three main theories about the origin of hissy fits.
· Allusion to how cats (and catty women) react when angry – hissing, baring claws, etc.
· Shortened from hysterical – deriving from or affected by uncontrolled extreme emotion.
· Shortened from histronics – exaggerated dramatic behavior designed to attract attention.
I think for a term like this to have gained and maintained such a reputation it probably gets some input from all three. However, I put more weight on histrionics. It may be the least common, but to those familiar with it, the "attention-seeking" theatrics seem particularly apropos.
Oxford English Dictionary defines hissy as: “n. chiefly U.S. a fit of temper, an angry outburst, a tantrum.” So basically, it’s what happens when a Southerner orders sweet tea up North and learns they don’t serve it. The phrase, hissy fit, has popped up more than a few times in pop culture. Reese Witherspoon was actually nominated for “Choice Hissy Fit” for her role as Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” at 2001’s Teen Choice Awards. The phrase also gets referenced a lot in Southern books like, “Daisy Fae and the Miracle Man,” written by Alabama native, Fannie Flagg. Fannie humorously wrote that “Momma always looks like she is on the verge of a hissy fit, but that’s mainly because when she was eighteen, she stuck her head in a gas oven looking at some biscuits and blew her eyebrows off.”
Now as bad as a hissy fit can be, it pales in comparison to an actual Southern conniption. I’ll have more on that later.
*This is meant to be a fun, light-hearted post. Although there is some truth in it for sure, please don’t take it too seriously. I wouldn't want you to have a conniption.