Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Having Truck with the word "Truck"

Thomas came up with an interesting question recently. "How old is the word 'truck'? Was it around before the vehicle?"

I knew it must have been, because the word can mean "trade" or "barter". But the question made me wonder exactly how old the word is, and it also made me wonder how the term "truck garden" came about.

So the first thing I did was pull out my OED of Etymology, 1974 edition.


The first and oldest definition of the word is from the 13th century, and that was to "give in exchange". (Apparently the earliest example of this meaning in print was from the Ancrene Riwle)

"Barter", 16th century; "barter away" 17th century, as well as "dealings, traffic"; "payment in kind, good supplied instead of wages" 18th century, and; "pay otherwise than in money", 19 century.


The meaning of this word as a "small solid wooden wheel or block" dates from the 17th century and moved into the 18th century as "wheeled vehicle for heavy weights", possibly as a shortened form of the word "truckle". Truckle came into our language as a "pulley, sheave" or "small roller or wheel under a bed, etc" in the 15th century. As a verb truckle came to mean to "yield obsequiously to" in the 17th century.

The word truck progressed through Middle English trukie, later trukke, to Anglo-Norman truquer, Old French troquer, (reflected, according to the OED, in Medieval Latin trocare). So the word truck has been around since at least the 13th century and has gone through several languages to reach our modern English.

Now, as for truck gardening, the Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition, says it is
the horticultural practice of growing one or more
vegetable crops on a large
scale for shipment to distant markets. . . . At first this type of
farming depended entirely on local or regional markets. As the use of railroads
and large-capacity trucks expanded and refrigerated carriers were introduced,
truck farms spread to the cheaper lands of the West and South, . .
. The major truck-farming areas are in California, Texas, Florida,
along the Atlantic Coastal Plain, and in the Great Lakes area. . . .

That's all well and good, but I already know what a truck garden is. I have not been able to find anything about the origin of the term. I have no idea when it started being used with relation to gardening. My OED fails me there, and so far so has the Internet.

* Other interesting usages of the word "truck" are:
as an intransitive verb, to do trucking or to drive a truck as one's work;
the slang truck on down, which means to stroll or walk in a carefree, leisurely manner;
as a rare form of the intransitive verb, peddle;
as an informal noun, dealings (e.g. have no further truck with them), which is how I used it in the title of this entry;
as an informal noun, trash, rubbish (**e.g. “Look at your hands. And look at your mouth. What is that truck?” --Mark Twain).
from U.S. Military Dictionary, a wooden disk at the top of a ship's mast or flagstaff, with sheaves for signal halyards. **

Now you probably know more about the word "truck" than you ever wanted to know, but wasn't it interesting? I like it when someone asks me a word question that sends me digging into dictionaries and encyclopedias. Hope you got some enjoyment out of it as well.

And all I can say in closing is . . .


* Your Dictionary.com
** Answers.com


Big Mark 243 said...

I for one, enjoyed this entry and the research that went into it!

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Interesting post, thanks for the learning opportunity :o)

Beth said...

I was wondering if "keep on truckin'" was going to make an appearance in here! Fun entry!