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77), where Frank Hardy uses the expression (removed when the story was revised in 1959), and the old-time band Skillet Lickers recording a song called "Nigger in the Woodpile" in 1930. Seuss used the term in a 1929 cartoon "Cross-Section of The World's Most Prosperous Department Store", wherein customers browse through a department store looking for items to make their lives more difficult.
The panels show a series of scenarios based on popular figures of speech: a man with a net trying to catch a fly for his ointment, another looking at monkey wrenches to throw into his machinery, one examining haystacks with matching needles, and finally a man looking at a selection of "niggers" for his woodpile.
The author Zane Grey's 1921 novel The Mysterious Rider uses the expression at least twice throughout the story to explain a situation in which facts were purposefully omitted.
A visual gag in the Looney Tunes cartoon "Porky's Railroad" from 1937 refers to the phrase.
In the era of slavery, the pulpwood cars were built with an outer frame with the wood being stacked inside in moderately neat rows and stacks.
However, given the nature of the cars, it was possible to smuggle persons in the pile itself, possibly giving rise to the term.
Thus, the phrase has been supplanted by synonymous "skeletons in the closet" which carries no such connotations. The evidence is slight, but it is presumed that they were derived from actual instances of the concealment of fugitive slaves in their flight north under piles of firewood or within hiding places in stone walls.
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The idiom is glossed in the original sources as being used of a person who is guilty of the very thing of which they accuse another and is thus an example of psychological projection.
The earliest appearance of the idiom is in Thomas Shelton's 1620 translation of the Spanish novel Don Quixote.
Dixon-Smith said the phrase had "slipped out without my thinking", and that "It was common parlance when I was younger".
In July 2017, the phrase was again used by British Conservative Party politician Anne Marie Morris who said that Brexit without a deal with the European Union was the "real nigger in the woodpile".