I'm reading Step by Step : A Pedestrian Memoir by Lawrence Block and the following paragraph mentions a place in Nebraska called "Hare’s Breath":

The business of walking substantial distances in competition with others has been with us for a long time, and in the nineteenth century, much as it may strain credulity, the six–day walking race was a spectator sport. There were races held from one city to another, and occasional races that spanned the entire country, and I can understand why residents of Hare’s Breath, Nebraska, might gather at the stop sign to see a walker passing through, but a more typical event was held in a stadium, with walkers circling a quarter–mile cinder track for 144 hours.

Since I can't find a place called Hare's Breath in Nebraska, I'm very confused if this is some kind of joke or is there really such a place. If it's a joke, what is he joking about and why Nebraska? Can anybody explain the idea for me?

  • I can understand why residents in a small town in Nebraska might gather....
    – lurker
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 3:14
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    It's a pun on "hair's breadth", the width of a hair, a very narrow distance indeed. Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 4:02
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    m.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-hares-breath.htm Note that the name may sound far fetched (unbelievable), but many small towns and rural areas in the USA have names based on local animals. So, although this town Hare's Breath does not really exist, it is a believable fiction. It sounds like what many small towns are actually called.
    – GoDucks
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 5:04
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    To me, this place sounds a lot like Lake Wobegon, Minnesota.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 9:00
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    @VarunKN - The phrase is "a hair's breadth", that is, the width of one hair. A hare's breath is not a standard phrase, and only exists as a misunderstanding of "hair's breadth" or a play on words.
    – stangdon
    Commented Dec 26, 2015 at 19:43

1 Answer 1


To answer your question directly, you are right: it is a joke-name for a non-existent town, and Nebraska was likely selected because it is dead-center in the middle of the United States and has a large rural population (lots of farming and ranching in Nebraska). And the phrase, "might gather at the stop sign" implies that this fictional town has only a single stop sign and is otherwise devoid of any traffic control (stoplights and so forth). However, Nebraska also has ample higher education, and its cities are as modern as any.

As StoneyB commented: "It's a pun on "hair's breadth", the width of a hair, a very narrow distance indeed." It adds to the humor.

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