March 23, 2021

#08-062: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County

drawing of a scene inside a rustic room; one man is nudging a fat frog from behind with a stick, while another frog is athletically leaping away from a man next to him
"Smiley was pretty surprised when Dan'l couldn't jump!"

Note: The story of Dan'l Webster, Mark Twain's "Celebrated Jumping Frog," is one of this humorist's funniest. Have a good laugh at the duping of Jim Smiley in this lesson.

Get Ready: Have you ever bet on anything? Did you win?

"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is the story that made Mr. Mark Twain, AKA Samuel Clemens, nationally famous. It's the kind of "tall tale" that men told each other in the mining camps of California during the "gold rush" of the 1850s.

Like many of Twain's works, it's told in a kind of dialect. The narrator claims to have heard it from one Simon Wheeler, who in turn supposedly heard it from another "feller." Mr. Wheeler often diverges from his story for humorous effect, but the pith of the tale is this:

There was a fellow once in Angel's Camp named Jim Smiley, who would place a bet on just about anything--if he could get someone to bet against him. His luck was so good that he usually won, whatever side he bet on.

"If he even seen a straddle-bug start to go anywheres," Mr. Wheeler averred, "he would bet you how long it would take him to get wherever he was going to, and if you took him up, he would foller that straddle-bug to Mexico but what he would find out where he was bound for and how long he was on the road."

One day Smiley caught a frog, and spent three months "edercating" him to jump: "'d see that frog whirling in the air like a doughnut--see him turn one summerset, or may be a couple, if he got a good start, and come down flat-footed and all right, like a cat." The frog's name was Dan'l ("Daniel") Webster. Naturally, Smiley would talk anyone he could into betting against Dan'l's ability to jump, claiming he could "outjump any frog in Calaveras County."

One day he bet against a stranger who had no frog. So Smiley told the stranger to hold Dan'l while he (Smiley) went and fetched a frog for the stranger to bet on. But while Smiley was gone, the stranger filled Dan'l up with quail shot, a kind of ammunition used for shooting birds, which weighed him down considerably.

Well, Smiley was pretty surprised when Dan'l couldn't jump!

After the stranger left with the money, Smiley picked up Dan'l and exclaimed, "Why, blame my cats, if he don't weigh five pound!" He then turned Dan'l upside down and the quail shot came pouring out! He set out to catch the stranger, but we'll never know what happened, because Simon Wheeler was called away for a moment, and the narrator escaped his longwindedness before he returned.


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. AKA
  2. averred
  3. bound (for)
  4. diverges
  5. flat-footed
  6. longwindedness
  7. pith
  8. quail
  9. straddle-bug
  10. summerset

  1. the habit of talking too much
  2. declared confidently
  3. a long-legged beetle
  4. a small game bird
  5. going (toward)
  6. deviates
  7. solidly
  8. "also known as"
  9. a flip of the body; somersault
  10. essence

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 23, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. h; 2. b; 3. e; 4. f; 5. g; 6. a; 7. j; 8. d; 9. c; 10. i