Now I went out last Sunday with my little Mary Anne
She said, ‘Please stay ’til Monday,’ and she grabbed me by the can
She laid a big one on me, surprised me with her tongue
But her surprise was waitin’ there between my cheek and gum
Those are the lyrics to a song called “Copenhagen” by Robert Earl Keen. The surprise to which he refers? it’s packed and oozing, it smells bad and tastes worse, it’s a chaw.
Chaw can be a noun, as in a plug or wad of chewing tobacco, or it can be a verb. The Wiktionary uses it in this sentence: When the doctor told him to quit smoking, Harvey switched to chaw, but then developed cancer of the mouth. That pretty much summarizes what the CDC has to say about using chewing tobacco.
There are other definitions. Wiktionary notes that in some areas of the South it refers to the act of chewing or grinding your teeth. It also can refer to ruminating or pondering some question or issue. In Britain, it is apparently used as slang for stealing.
As per usual, the Urban Dictionary offers some more colorful definitions:
- An exclamation of surprise, delight or salutation. Used with a rising inflection of pitch through which a gradual diphthong “AW-AH” is used. Various permutations of the word are also permitted, eg. “Phwar” or “Hwaw”
- A person who is born with a gun in one hand and a fishing pole in the other. They tend to come from the suburbs of Atlanta and have somewhat of a mysterious life.
- A reply that demonstrates an acknowledgment, understanding, or agreement with what one has stated, suggested, etc.
But for most of us, it’s about that cheek packed with smokeless tobacco. So the pertinent question is less what than why. I found this story in Esquire by author A.J. Jacobs that addresses that issue.
Jacobs starts off by noting “In my social circle, chewing tobacco elicits universal disgust. It brings to mind marrying your second cousin, jaw cancer, and cups of warm brown spit at awful frat parties long ago.” If you think it’s about the taste, consider this: “One helpful Internet commenter warned that dip tastes like ‘Big Foot’s dick.’ Another: like ‘a rodent exploded in my mouth.'”
Undeterred, Jacobs gave it a try: “The tobacco stings my cheek like orange juice on a canker sore. And I have no control over my wad. It’s supposed to stay compact, but strands of tobacco migrate all over my mouth. The spit builds up fast. I put my empty Poland Spring bottle to my lips and do my best. But instead of the bullet I’ve seen ballplayers emit, I let loose a messy, chin-dribbling drool.”
Hmmm. I’d say we’re better of just singing about it: