Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I've always wondered about the nickname "Pee Wee" - from whence did it come, and with what was it associated?
One of baseball's all-time greats, Pee Wee Reese, was born in Ekron, KY (Meade County) in 1918 and was living in Louisville at the time of his death on August 14, 1999.
Just two days later, on August 16, 1999, the country music star Pee Wee King, also living in Louisville, also died.
King was best known for "You Belong To Me" (you know the song - "Seeeee the pyramids alonggggg the Niiiiiile....") He also wrote "The Tennessee Waltz" in an attempt to capitalize on Bill Monroe's success with "The Kentucky Waltz", but he also had many great Country and Western Swing songs over the years such as "Dragnet", "Slow Poke", "Why Don't Y'all Go Home?" and "Unbreakable Heart".
And then there's bluesman Pee Wee Crayton, and of course, that Pee-wee Herman guy. And growing up, I read Richie Rich comics, which had a character named Pee Wee. I also used to know a bonafide Kentucky Pee Wee: back in the 90s when I had antique-mall booths all over central Kentucky, I knew a fellow known only as "Pee Wee" who dealt in antique tools, hardware, coins, locks, and railroadiana.
But what is the etymology of the term "Pee Wee"? Why are these two syllables historically applied to children, or to people who are short in stature? (And many of the people with the nickname aren't even short at all.) According to the dictionary, Pee Wee means "One, such as a child, that is relatively or unusually small", and notes that it's probably a variant of "wee", meaning tiny.
It also suggests that "Pee Wee" is related to "Pewee", which is a type of bird. (Oddly, though, their own description refers to Pewees as "small" and as "large" in the exact same entry!)
Which brings us right back to Kentucky again - the city of Pewee Valley (the setting of the old "Little Colonel" books) in Oldham County is named after that bird. Apparently it was omnipresent enough here that the city's founders gave it that name, although no one's sure how "valley" got into it - the city is actually built on a crest, not a valley.