A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 05, 2007
“Harelips the governor” ("hare-lips the governor")

"I don’t care if it harelips the governor” (or “hare-lips the governor") means the same as “come hell or high water.” The phrase (also popularly used in to “harelip hell") is of undetermined origin, but has been popular throughout the South in the 20th century.

A Lesson in Texas Language
If someone says, “I don’t care if it hare-lips the governor,” that usually means that they don’t care about the outcome at all! You don’t have to use the whole phase; it is just as effective to say, “I mona eat that third piece of cake if it hare-lips the governor.” Around here, we will know what you mean.

Mavens’ Word of the Day
June 25, 1998
harelip, v.
The verb harelip (as it’s usually spelled) is found chiefly in figurative phrases that suggest dire consequences that one will ignore in order to get something done. If it harelips (something) as a phrase thus means ‘regardless of consequences’ or ‘come hell or high water’. The meaning of harelip alone can’t really be defined, but ‘to destroy’ provides a rough guideline.

One source, referring to Alabama in the 1920s, defines to hare-lip hell as “to show great determination regardless of consequences. ‘I’m gonna do it if it hare-lips hell.’” From Texas we have an example of “I’m gonna bed her if it harelips the governor,” and from the Ozarks, “I’m going to do it even if it harelips all the hogs in Texas.”

This expression is first recorded in a 1960 collection of regional expressions, although various sources claim that it was in use in the 1920s, the 1940s, and the 1950s. It seems to be confined to the South. It is presumably based on harelip, a sixteenth-century term for ‘a cleft lip’ (a congenital defect of the upper lip in which a fissure extends into one or both nostrils); this term is now sometimes considered offensive.

Google Books
Ride the Devil’s Tail
by Dan Parkinson
New York: Kensington Publishing Corporation
Pg. 174:
“...back if it hare-lips half of Texas.”

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (2) Comments • Thursday, July 05, 2007 • Permalink

I grew up in the 40s-60s hearing the “harelips the governor” phrase for as long as I can remember.

Posted by GranNan  on  09/05  at  10:44 AM

More appropriately the phrase tends to be used in the southwest.  A harelip is considered a derogatory phrase for a cleft palate. As far as the meaning is concerned it is an attempt to express in a humorous way, though not particularly in vogue by current speech standards, disapproval of a situation or action by pursing ones lips, therefore resembling a cleft pallet.

Posted by jon domenico  on  04/19  at  10:47 AM

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