"My question, which is just a straight honest question: is he a brother, or is he a cornball brother?" [Rob] Parker asked... "Well... he's black, he kind of does his thing, but he's not really down with the cause, he's not one of us. He's kind of black, but he's not really the guy you'd really want to hang out with, because he's off to do something else.... I want to find out about him.... I don't know because I keep hearing these things. We all know he has a white fiancee. Then there was all this talk about he's a Republican...."All right. I just want to talk about the word "cornball," which strikes me as a very old fashioned word. I mean, I thought it was weird hearing Marlon Brando use the word in his 1953 movie "The Wild One":
Kathie Bleeker: Well, what d'ya do? I mean, do you just ride around or do you go on some sort of a picnic or something?Brando's Johnny was the leader of a motorcycle gang that rode into a small town and scared people like Kathie Bleeker. I saw that movie when I was in college, circa 1970, and we thought it was very funny that Brando said "cornball." For years, perhaps decades, we amused ourselves by saying "That's cornball style," Brando-style, usually with an added, "Man, you are too square."
Johnny: A picnic? Man, you are too square. I'm... I... I'll have to straighten you out. Now, listen, you don't go any one special place. That's cornball style. You just go.
But maybe "cornball" has made a comeback, maybe specifically in the context of "cornball brother." I check Urban Dictionary, and (unsurprisingly) it's got a couple of completely new entries inspired by the RG3 flap: "A classy, intelligent African-American athlete. The kind of guy who dominates his enemies and doesn't fall in line with the opinion of douchebags — a freethinker and warrior." Fine, but not responsive to my inquiry. "Cornball" was the April 13, 2005 Urban Word of the Day with the definition: "Of a cheesy, corny, and otherwise over-the-top feelgood nature. Virtually any inspirational quote that makes you shudder." (The example given is of George Bush saying something deemed "cornball.") There's another entry — with more down than up votes — from 2005:
Its that dumbass motherfucker that says stupid ass shit and acts like a moron... STOP DOIN THAT! U AINT GOT NO FRIENDS GO HOME!Okay, so... let's look at the Oxford English Dictionary, where if we skip past the references to "a sweetmeat made of popped corn or maize" — "Nanny remained near the dutch oven to keep us supplied with red-hot pones, or corn-balls" 1843 — we get to the metaphorical use of "a 'corny' person," with the first appearance being a mere 1 year before "The Wild One":
1952 R. C. Ruark in H. Wentworth & S. B. Flexner Dict. Amer. Slang (1960) 124/2 Eisenhower on no account can be called a cornball.Now, the use of "corny" to refer to a kind of person goes back to 1932, according to the OED. The derivation is obvious as the word means "Of such a type as appeals to country-folk; rustic or unsophisticated; tiresomely or ridiculously old-fashioned or sentimental; hackneyed, trite; inferior."
1932 Melody Maker June 511/1 The ‘bounce’ of the brass section... has degenerated into a definitely ‘corny’ and staccato style of playing.That's as much light as I can shed right now on the word cornball, which — you get my point — seems to be a word that is itself cornball.
1935 Peabody (Mass.) Bull. Dec. 42/2 Corny—Derived from cornfed, meaning [music] played in country style, out of date, hill-billy, or in a style of pre-1925....