A word to capture the Carolinas

By Elizabeth Jensen
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

Cackalacky is a nickname for North or South Carolina, but where did the name come from?

Page Skelton, the creator of Cackalacky Spice Sauce, stands under the Cackalacky sign on the side of Cliff's Meat Market at the intersection of North Greensboro Street and West Main Street. (Staff photo by Elizabeth Jensen)

The Harvard University Press published the first volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English in 1985. The volume contained entries for the letters A, B and C. But the dictionary didn’t include an entry for Cackalacky, and George Goebel, the dictionary’s review editor, said there is little information on file about the nickname. None of that information points to the word’s origin.

“It doesn’t look like anyone has come up with a convincing answer yet, and it may well just be an invented ‘nonsense’ word that sounds vaguely like Carolina,” Goebel wrote in an e-mail.

Paul Jones, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and director of ibiblio.org, is probably the closest anyone has come to identifying the word’s origin.

In the late 1960s during the Vietnam War, more than 200,000 soldiers went to Fort Bragg for basic training, according to globalsecurity.org. And Jones said that evidence shows that the term gained popularity with them.

He said, “There’s tons of evidence that it originated outside of North Carolina.”

Since then, the nickname’s popularity has grown, especially in the hip-hop and club scenes, Jones said.

The song “Scenario” by hip-hop artist A Tribe Called Quest is the first pop culture reference to the Carolina nickname.

“East Coast stompin’, rippin’ and rompin’, New York, North Cak-a-laka and Compton, checka-checka-check it out,” the lyrics said on the 1991 album, “The Low End Theory.”

Because the reference is recent and few of the oldest Carolinians recognize the term, Jones said the origin of Cackalacky probably doesn’t predate the middle of the 20th century.

“All I can say is people a lot older than me haven’t heard of it,” said Jones, who was born in Hickory, N.C., in 1950.

In Carrboro, the nickname is synonymous with Page Skelton’s Cackalacky Spice Sauce. He spent eight months working on a recipe for the sauce, which includes sweet potatoes, red wine, chili peppers and more than 15 other ingredients. The name for the sauce was born on a camping trip when one of Skelton’s friends said to him, “Pass me that Cackalacky sauce.” The name stuck, Skelton said.

Page Skelton carries a bottle of the sauce in a custom "holster," but he doesn't wear it every day. (Staff photo by Elizabeth Jensen)

He said a lot of people have asked him where the name comes from, so he’s done his own research. He’s found a few foods and terms that sound remarkably similar to Cackalacky.

These include “kalacky,” an Eastern European sweet pastry filled with nuts, jam and fruit; “cock-a-leekie,” a traditional Scottish soup; and “chakalaka,” a spicy African relish.

The name also sounds like the Choctaw word for the Cherokee Indians, “chalakee,” meaning “those who live in the mountains,” Skelton said.

“How do you sum up Southeastern culture in a word?” Skelton said. “Cackalacky comes close.”

Some Carrboro and Chapel Hill residents have their own ideas about the word’s origin.

Outside of Cliff’s Meat Market, on the corner of North Greensboro Street and West Main Street, a large banner advertising Skelton’s sauce hangs on the wall.

“I used to think when I was a kid that it had something to do with Cadillacs,” said Cliff Collins, owner of Cliff’s Meat Market, who grew up in Chatham County.

Don Basnight, a broker at Weaver Street Realty, grew up in Orange County just like his parents and grandparents.

“It’s just a bastardized term for Carolina,” he said. “I always heard,  ‘We’re from North by God Cackalacky.’ It always had ‘by God’ in the middle of it.”

Some longtime Carolinians haven’t heard the term or have heard of the sauce before the name.

Jason Cole, manager of Carrboro Beverage Company, is one of them. He moved to North Carolina when he was nine years old.

“It’s like Hotlanta,” he said. “Who knows where that came from?”

Author of the article

4 Responses

  1. Brian H.
    Brian H. at |

    Leave it to A Tribe Called Quest to first get this word into pop culture. One of the best groups ever.

  2. jeff85
    jeff85 at |

    Cackalacky is a nickname for North or South Carolina, but where did the name come from?“It doesn

  3. evo
    evo at |

    As we are associated with some of the earliest railroads, (the first railroad junction in Branchville, SC.) and the first passenger service route, (The Best Friend of Charleston). I’ve always thought of the railroad clackity clack sound as the origin of the nickname.

  4. Adam
    Adam at |

    This name is very similar to the Swedish word: “Kackerlacka” which means “Cockroach”.

Comments are closed.