Tuesday, September 22, 2020



     The summer of 2020 ends today.
     Thank God. What a strange season. No travel. No ballgames. No family barbecues. A summer of masks and anxiety.
     And yet; there were definite highlights.
     Most nights, when our work was done, my wife and I would go walking in the Chicago Botanic Garden. It seemed important, and was relaxing, although not without its own set of challenges. When you walk in, under the trellis of flowers, you are presented with a choice: break left, toward the Rose Garden, or right, proceeding along the lagoon, or straight, toward the orchard.
     "Which way?" my wife would ask, unless I asked first.
     "If I had my druthers..." I began once.
    "What's a druther?" my wife asked, interrupting me. 
     I stopped, mouth open. I had no idea. I've been saying it ... forever. But what does the word mean? From the context, I'd say "choice." It sounds kinda British. A good name for a character in a P.G. Wodehouse novel. "Jeeves, prepared for a weekend at Lord Druthers' estate in Cambury!"
     I had a presentiment, pulling down the "D-E" volume of the Oxford that it wouldn't be there, and it wasn't: straight from "drut" an obscure term for "Darling, love, friend" to "Druvy" a varient of Drovy "turbid, not clear or transparent."
     Not in the Oxford. A regional term, then? An Ohioism? No...couldn't be. Not in the American Heritage either. Am I spelling it right? Could it be, oh, "durothers?" No.
     Okay, time to cheat and go online. Merrian Webster: "free choice: PREFERENCE —used especially in the phrase '
if one had one's druthers.'"
     Another online dictionary pegged it as "Informal—North American." That's us! Particularly this summer. I never put on a tie or a suit jacket, not once. I think I put on khakis once.
     But where did the word come from? Webster's read my mind:
     Druther is an alteration of "would rather." "Any way you druther have it, that is the way I druther have it," says Huck to Tom in Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer, Detective. This example of metanalysis (the shifting of a sound from one constituent of a phrase to another) had likely been around for some time in everyday speech when Twain put those words in Huck's mouth. By then, in fact, druthers had already become a plural noun, so Tom could reply, "There ain't any druthers about it, Huck Finn; nobody said anything about druthers." Druthers is essentially a dialectal term and it tends to suggest an informality of tone, but in current use it doesn't necessarily suggest a lack of sophistication or education. 
      Whew, that's a relief. Or should I say a disappointment, given how popular abandonment of both sophistication and education have become. Too late now to try to fake our way into the uneducated crowd: just this morning my wife and I spent a while discussing the etymology of the expression "Oh my." My suspicion is that it's what's known as a "minced oath." A digression I'll save for another day.


  1. Ah Twain , my childhood hero. Helped to form my views on equality. Not read so much these days unfortunately. That word you know.

  2. Now you've got me curious about minced oaths. Actually, I already have a fairly good idea what they are, although I didn't know that's what they were called.

  3. Silly. Lord Druthers' estate is in Cadbury.

  4. "Any way you druther have it, that is the way I druther have it," says Huck to Tom...

    Written that way, it looks like "you'd rather" and "I'd rather"--which is what I've always thought it was. Figured it was rural, and that it was part of a Southern drawl or a Texas twang or maybe from out West or from Appalachia. Definitely not New England or New York or Chicagoese. Maybe more of an Ohio thing? Even in Ohio's northeast corner, there are many folks from Kentucky and West Virginia. So you might have heard it from other kids, Mr. S.

    Minced oaths are the euphemisms for curses and swear words. Substitutes for blasphemies and profanities. It's a term for words like shoot, shucks, dang, darn, heck, cripes, gosh-darn-it, and son-of-a-gun. Is "Oh, my" a truncated form of "Oh, my God"--because that's also an oath? I was not aware of that...until now. One can learn so much here...and I do.

    Then there's oh-my-goodness, jeepers-creepers, gee-whiz, and jeeze. Gosh and my gosh. Jiminy Cricket. And many more. There are even alphabetized online lists of minced oaths available. But that's another story for another day.

    1. I'll go along with the rest of that, Grizz, but I'm gonna have to stand up for the innocence of the word "shucks." I see no need for that to be a substitute for a curse or swear word, and, after briefly looking into it, I don't see that as the derivation. And, shucks, I like it! :)

    2. Anything with a "J" and a "C" is fairly self-explanatory.
      The "sh-" words are euphemisms for the word meaning "feces."

    3. As the world crashes down all around us, this is truly a pointless thing to argue about. Of course, I'll continue. :)

      Upon further review, I concede that there is a lot of support out there for the idea that shucks is a minced oath. Sadly, though I'm not a lexicologist, I remain unconvinced. Most of the examples you list, Grizz, are made-up words. Shucks has an actual meaning, aside from being used as an oath. If I were to burn myself on the stove and scream "Johnny Carson!" you could call that a minced oath. But it wouldn't mean that the gentleman's name was primarily understood as one. I've now learned that "sugar" is also a minced oath. Ay-yi-yi.

      Does one accidentally hit one's thumb with a hammer and yell "Shucks?" Does one castigate another for being dense by saying "No shucks, Sherlock?" There's a specific primary usage for the word shucks, other than as corn husks -- "Aw, shucks" -- expressing modesty, essentially. Which makes sense, as corn shucks are commonplace, modest items. Not many would use "Aw, shit" as a replacement for that usage.

      I'm linking to a long analysis that supports your view. But the reason I'm posting it is close to the end. A dissenting voice who points out the following: "The earliest attested use of 'shucks' as an interjection was in 1847 (OED Online). The earliest attested use of 'shit' as an interjection was in 1865 (op. cit.). Therefore, suggesting that 'shucks' originated as a euphemism for 'shit' ignores the significantly earlier attestation of 'shucks'."

      In short, (is that a minced oath, too, ha-ha-ha?) I submit that it's a *coincidence* that shucks begins with "sh," leading to confusion. When I say shucks, I mean shucks, not shit, gosh darn it! Or, as Sigmund Freud would have said, had he thought of it, "Sometimes a shuck is just a shuck."


  5. now that was some high quality writing. and, are minced oaths finer than diced?

  6. OMG, there's an expression I haven't heard in years! My neighbor used to use it all this time, but she was as old then as I am now--almost 80! LOL


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