I may be an X from Y, but…

“I’m just a humble country lawyer…”
— Jimmy Stewart as Paul Biegler, Anatomy of a Murder

“I’m just a simple hyperchicken lawyer from a backwoods asteroid, but…”
— Hyperchicken Lawyer as himself, Futurama

I may be just a simple armchair linguist from the blogosphere, but I know a snowclone when I see one, and this is an interesting one. “I may be an X from Y, but…” is a go-to phrase in an apparently wide variety of contexts where there’s some perceived rhetorical advantage to a disarming self-deprecating framing.

And while its use seems biased toward small-town/rural self-identification (“country bumpkin”, “dumb old hick”, “redneck libertarian”), its not limited to those contexts; the speaker sometimes identifies as a city-slicker (“a heal-wearing, wine-drinking gal from the city”), or a woman (“a girl from Manchester”), or a young person (“a kid from manila”), or as a member of any of a variety of other categorizations (“a grandmom from Chicago”, “a gay guy from Belfast”, “an insufferably white dork from Canada”).

Regardless of the role filling the X slot, the thrust remains the same: the speaker acknowledges their disadvantaged status in the context of the current conversation, but! But they’ve got something to say. As a rhetorical trick, it’s nice: a savvy speaker can claim some humility, but more than that can undercut a potential dismissal or (more deviously) put their interlocutor on the defense by insinuating a dismissive intent on the interlocutor’s part.

Jimmy Stewart’s quoted line from the Otto Preminger court drama captures that rhetorical thrust nicely, but it doesn’t fill out the template I’m interested in here; the “…from Small Town, Wherever” tag is missing. But as later parodies (such as the template fulfilling Hyperchicken quote above, or Phil Hartman’s drawn-out “I’m just a caveman…but…” spiels from Saturday Night Live) show, the form had legs.

And while the cited examples below don’t generally invoke legal contexts, the perceived role in pop culture perceptions of the small town lawyer as a rhetorically manipulative creature makes the generalization of the form for rhetorical framing in general conversation reasonable enough as a tactic, whether sincere or for the sake of a joke or some mix of the two.

So, collected here and alphabetized are all the hits I found on Google for the search string “i may be a * from * but” as well as variants with “an” as the article, “just be”, and “be just”, documenting only those hits that seemed to fit the pattern correctly with a physical location of some sort as the object of the “from” preposition.

(Notes for the future: It might be interesting to take this list and break it up into constituent parts ([a/an] [adjectival modifier(s)] [noun] from [location]) and look at those independently, or plot the noun and adjective constituents of the X part on a map according to the Y location. Also, to keep things focused and simple, I didn’t look in detail, or cite here, variants where there’s a negation (“I may not be a…”), or where alternatives to “I may be” are used (“I might be a…”, “I’m just a…”), or where the Y value is something other than a physical location (“…from another era”), or where the “from Y” tag is absent or significantly different structurally (“I may be a size 2 from the waist up, but…”).)

And so but: the list of cites, preserving capitalization it occurred in the search results.

I May Be ________ From ___________, But…

an 18 year chick from Canada
a 35-year-old white DJ from Maine
an African far away from home at Christmas-time
an American citizen from Hawaii
an artsy-fartsy from London
a backwards Christian hick from Ohio
a bitter old Klingon from Universe #2
a “blow-in” from Devon
a boy from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
a bozo originally from Houston
a business school graduate from Canada
a cat from Memphis
a chow-hick from Napa
a country boy Republican from Idaho
a country boy from northern new england
a country bumpkin from the Arctic
a cracker from NYC
a crazy dog from Nagoya, Japan
a dirt-old farmer from Franklin
a dumb hick from Kentucky
a dumb hick from the woods
a dumb nigger from Chicago
a dumb old country boy from Montana
a dumb old hick from a dumb old hick town
an Echidna from another world
an emergency doctor originally from Maryland named Eric McDonald
an exchange student from Tennessee
an ex employee from a year ago
a farm kid from Texas
a fast talking blonde from California
a fireman from Lincoln Nebraska
a flashy girl from Flushing
a ‘fool from Stockholm’
a foolish boy from Chippenham
a foreigner (from an allied country)
a freckled face bitch from Down Under
a “Gaijin” from Texas
a gay guy from Belfast
a general hockey fan from Montreal
A Girl From Homer
a girl from Kansas
a girl from Manchester
a girl from Manchester
a girl from Nebraska
a girl from a Salford council estate
a girl from the Midwest
a gobby bloke from Bermondsey
a goober from Georgia
a grad from Knucklehead U
a graduate from SHS
a grandmom from Chicago
a green-bottomed kid from Texas
a “green go” politician from Alaska
a heal-wearing, wine-drinking gal from the city
a hick from Indianer
a hick from Montana
a hick from N. Louisi-Yana
a hick from Pennsylvania
a hick from a cow college
a hick from the sticks
a hick from up north
a hick girl from Tennessee
a hillbilly from jackson county
a humble Northern boy from England
a humble boy from the Midwest/ Appalachia countryside
a humble techie from a non-medieval institution
a humble woman from Wasilla
an illegal immigrant from Canada
an insufferably white dork from Canada
an Italian from NJ
an Ivy League educated white girl from the mid-west
a Jewish girl from Boston
a kid from manila
a kiwi indian drumma from new zealand
a lily white chick from the subdivision
a little girl from Texas
a little ol’ country boy from Lubbock, Texas
a little old country boy from St Louis
a lowly peasant emigree from Gloucester
a manly naturalist from Northumbria
a middle class ex- factory worker from Surrey
a naive white guy from London
a nice guy from the Midwest
an Okie from Muskogee
an ol’ yellow dog (from New York City)
an old dude from the Northwest
an old frustrated throw back from the 60′s
an old geezer from the hinterlands
an old nobody from NY
an old nobody from NY
an outsider from a different race
an outsider from the lower 48
a pasty Caucasian from a rural farming community
a plain working class bloke originally from the Newtownards Road in Belfast
a plonker from Penge
a privileged white boy from Scarsdale
a redneck from south Arkinsaw
a redneck libertarian from Kentucky
a rookie from England
a rube from Warren County
a schismatic from Rome
a simple Paddy from Ireland
a simple bloke from Otahuhu
a simple country lawyer from your northern neighbor
a simple guy from Bosie, Idaho
a simple guy from Mobile, Alabama
a simple guy from Norway
a simple kid from the trailer park
a simple man from Galveston
a sixteen year old sophmore from Missouri
a sixty year old white woman from St. Louis
a small town girl from Mt. Clemens Mi
a small town girl from Oklahoma
a “small town” girl from Portland
a stranger from afar
a stranger from far away
a stupid metalhead from california
a teenage guy from a small town
a total randomer from Manchester, England
a transplanted hick from New Hampshire
a transplant from CT
an uneducated, “granny taught”, hodad from podunk
an unkwown from the twilight zone
A VATO FROM THE VARRIO
a white boy from the ‘burbs
a white doctor from America
a white girl from Boston
a white girl from Oregon
a woman from Venus
a woman from the south
a Yankee from up north
a yokel from Ohio
a yokel who graduated from UF

4 thoughts on “I may be an X from Y, but…

  1. For a classic use of this bit look at Senator Sam Ervin during the Watergate hearings. That poor old country lawyer from Tennessee used it to devastating effect and made himself into a national folk hero.

    Well done piece.

    a.Millard

  2. I may be just a humble translator from Ribeirão Preto, Brazil, but I can recognize your power of observation and analysis…

  3. This is great! We love to quote the Hyper-chicken. I just tried for some minutes to find the video of Sam Ervin as described by Another Millard above. While I found clips which demonstrated his mannerisms and disarming way of being, I was not able to find the specifics of his saying he was an old country lawyer from Dixie in the time I spent looking. But there are PAGES of clips of him at the NBC Universal archives, one of which might be it. I had never been to the archive as such until I was led there today by following this thread. Thank you!
    http://www.nbcuniversalarchives.com/nbcuni/searchResults.do?search.type=intermediate&search.withinKeywords=&search.withinResults=&search.keywords=sam%20ervin%20watergate&filter=

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