One of the most famous headlines ever to appear in Variety, the show business newspaper, was STICKS NIX HICK PIX. While the meaning may be obvious to some, to others it is unintelligible slang (which George M. Cohan felt needed an explanation in Yankee Doodle Dandy.) The gist of the story that follows the headline is that audience surveys indicate that movies about rural life are not popular with rural audiences.
Where do the words sticks, nix, hick, and pix originate?
Sticks is a term for a rural location that dates to 1905 and derives from the term “living in the sticks,” meaning “living among the trees.”
Nix, meaning “refuse, reject, or forbid,” stems from the German word nichts, meaning “nothing.” It was first noted in English in 1789.
A hick is a rural person, usually with the connotation of social awkwardness. Its origin, in the 14th century, was Hikke, a popular pet name for Richard, a name that was associated with hackney drivers. Its use as an adjective, as in hick town, dates only to 1914.
Pix, of course, is a variant of pics, a shortened form of pictures, which refers in this case to “motion pictures.” The word pic has been in use since at least 1884, and as a reference to movies, since 1936. Today it has been largely replaced by flicks or flix, a term used for movies since 1926, derived from flicker, from the uneven projection quality of early films.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has always been sympathetic to the producers of those hick pix, since he feels their pain. Not only hicks, but also city slickers, and everyone in between, have nixed the Bard’s work. Here’s why:
When I read Variety,
Though filled with great anxiety
About the notoriety
Provoked by impropriety,
And rampant insobriety
Among show-biz society,
I never reach satiety!