One reason I love words and their histories is that there are too many of them to ever master; no matter how much I know, there’s always plenty more I don’t. You know the phrase truck farming? I always assumed it had something to do with carrying produce in trucks. Not so! There are two different nouns truck, one from French troc ‘barter’ which came to mean “‘Traffic’, intercourse, communication, dealings. Now usu. in negative contexts: to have no truck with (a person or thing), etc.” and “Commodities for barter” (1688 CLAYTON in Phil. Trans. XVII. 792 They must carry all sort of Truck that trade thither, having one Commodity to pass off another), whence U.S. “Market-garden produce; hence as a general term for culinary vegetables” (1784 Maryland Jrnl. 14 Dec., Advt. (Thornton), A large Room.. for his Customers to lodge in, and deposit their Market-truck) and truck farm (1866 N. & Q. 3rd Ser. IX. 323/1 A truck garden, a truck farm, is a market-garden or farm).
Truck “A wheeled vehicle for carrying heavy weights,” on the other hand, first meant “A small solid wooden wheel or roller” and comes either from Latin trochus = Greek τροχός ‘hoop’ or from truckle ‘small wheel,’ ultimately from the same root.


  1. Adam Smith spoke of the natural tendency to “truck and barter”, so that sense of the word is familiar to economists or at least historians of economics.

  2. Of course, in railroad parlance, “truck” still refers to the wheel assemblies of locomotives and cars.

  3. OK, so this made me wonder about the phrase “keep on truckin'”. With a bit of Googling: it’s from a dance popular in the 1930s. A song entitled “Truckin'” was written by Ted Koehler and Marty Bloom written “Cotton Club Parade of 1935 (lyrics: “It spread like a forest blaze,/Became a craze,/Thanks to Harlem now,/Everybody’s truckin’.” Like other black slang usages, “truckin'” got picked up by the hippies of the 1960s, most notably by Mr. Natural, drawn by R. Crumb in the first issue of ZAP Comix, Feb. 1968. It was in wide countercultural usage by the time the Grateful Dead recorded their “Truckin'” in 1970.
    I also found “truckin'” used by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Lowry, in his book Lunar Caustic, published posthumously in 1963 but started in 1934 (based on Lowry’s “deliberate pilgrimage” to Bellevue Hospital about that time), in which “truckin'” is used to refer to a style of jazz piano playing, rather than dance.
    So it seems to me the name of the black dance is older than the 1935 song, and is more likely to derive, via a jazz piano style, from the “traffic, intercourse, communication, dealings” usage you cite, than from the wheeled or vehicular sense.

  4. michael farris says

    where does ‘truck’ meaning something like ‘foul substance’ come in?
    I kind of assumed it was cognate with German Dreck (which later got borrowed too, or was that through Yiddish or something else?)

  5. Those of us who were educated in the British educational stream in *earlier* years 🙂 remember the Truck Acts.
    From the interesting glossary of terms from the Industrial Revolution on Cotton Times :
    “Truck Acts
    The rise of manufacturing industry saw many company owners cashing in on their workers by paying them in full or in part with tokens, rather than coin of the realm. These tokens were exchangeable for goods at the company store, often at highly-inflated prices. The Truck Act of 1831 made this practice illegal in many trades, and the law was extended to cover nearly all manual workers in 1887.”
    The Truck Acts and subsequent acts were repealed in 1986 to allow British employers to pay wages by cheque, bank transfer and other modern means not involving “coin of the realm.”

  6. I’m not familiar with the ‘foul substance’ use, and neither is the Cassell Dictionary of Slang, but looking it up there I did find a mid-19th-century sense ‘hat’!
    Here’s the OED’s entry for the dance sense (it’s under truck ‘wheeled vehicle’):
    4. U.S. A popular dance (see quots.). Cf. TRUCK v.2 5, TRUCKING vbl. n.2 2.
    1935 Sun (Baltimore) 15 Nov. 14/6 The truck, or truckin’, that jerky yet rhythmic dance which combines a bend of the body, a tightening of the hand muscles and a slight strut with the legs, hit the theaters, sidewalks, gin taverns and dance floors of Harlem last summer. 1937 N.Y. Amsterdam News 4 Sept. 12/2 Add a bit of the Shag, the new dance sensation that has pushed the ‘Truck’ out of the limelight, throw in a bit of the Suzi-Q for a spice and then top it all off with the ‘Truck’.

  7. michael farris says

    Well wiktionary says the meaning I was asking about is obsolete and means “small, humble items; things, often for sale or barter.”
    “they had lemonade and gingerbread to sell, and piles of watermelons and green corn and such-like truck.”
    “I think I was mooning over some old papers, or letters, or ribbons, or some such truck”
    ‘foul substance’ was not a good approximation of what I meant.
    Though when I’ve heard it (maybe it’s a regional thing?) it was a lot more negative, with strong connotations of worthlessness or garbage. I remember hearing something like ‘that truck you kids put in your mouths’ referring to cheap (and/or disgusting) candy or snacks.
    If Wiktionary is right, it’s probably from the ‘trade, barter’ axis of meanings and not a cognate of Dreck after all.

  8. Huckleberry Finn and Jim (from Chapter 15; italics in original, bolding added):
    “Oh, well, that’s all interpreted well enough as far as it goes, Jim,” I says; “but what does these things stand for?”
    It was the leaves and rubbish on the raft and the smashed oar. You could see them first-rate now.
    Jim looked at the trash, and then looked at me, and back at the trash again. He had got the dream fixed so strong in his head that he couldn’t seem to shake it loose and get the facts back into its place again right away. But when he did get the thing straightened around he looked at me steady without ever smiling, and says:
    “What do dey stan’ for? I’se gwyne to tell you. When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin’ for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’ k’yer no’ mo’ what become er me en de raf’. En when I wake up en fine you back agin, all safe en soun’, de tears come, en I could a got down on my knees en kiss yo’ foot, I’s so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin’ ’bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ’em ashamed.”

  9. Terry Collmann says

    Thank you, Mr Hat, for making me suddenly realise why a truckle bed is so-called.

  10. Ok, now the lowbrow. MST3K ripped on the short The Truck Farmer, a truck of a bit of movie trash.
    Truck Farmer, the second edition, reveals the as yet untold story of the advances modern age that allows vegetable farming to supply the needs of the American public all year round. It does gloss over the somewhat minor role crop-picking migrant workers in Florida, Texas, and California play in this process…
    The term “truck farming” is used to describe the large-scale production and distribution of crops by road or rail. The word “truck” originally referred to the bartering of goods, and then came to mean the process of carrying goods to market, and eventually came to mean the vehicle used to haul the goods.
    Or so says the mst3kwiki.

  11. Here in Sussex we have things called “trugs”, baskets woven out of slats of wood with a central carrying handle over the top, used for carrying agricultural or garden produce. You can even google them. A related word?

  12. No, it’s a different word; OED: “[? Dialectal variant of TROUGH.]”

    don’t forget this other quote from Huck Finn (chapt. 8):
    Well, I warn’t long making him understand I warn’t dead. I was ever so glad to see Jim. I warn’t lonesome now. I told him I warn’t afraid of
    HIM telling the people where I was. I talked along, but he only set there and looked at me; never said nothing. Then I says: “It’s good daylight. Le’s get breakfast. Make up your camp fire good.” “What’s de use er makin’ up de camp fire to cook strawbries en sich truck? But you got a gun, hain’t you? Den we kin git sumfn better den strawbries.”
    “Strawberries and such truck,” I says. “Is that what you live on?”
    “I couldn’ git nuffn else,” he says.
    “Why, how long you been on the island, Jim?”
    “I come heah de night arter you’s killed.”
    “What, all that time?”
    “And ain’t you had nothing but that kind of rubbage to eat?”
    “No, sah–nuffn else.”

  14. … and speaking of AAVE, I almost forget the lyrics from Sisqo’s unmentionable (and regrettably popular) hit ‘the thong song,’ which go “she’s got dumps like a truck,” which could either be referring to the roundness of τροχος, or more likely just playing around with “dumptruck,” since dumps has some other sort of relationship to the posterior region, which is certainly not dump, as in “taking a dump.” This was the best link I found in reference to the phrase…
    I hope this is the most humorous “truck” reference…

  15. I really like Twain’s dialect writing. Most of the other stuff of that kind during that period is pretty trite. He explains to the reader that he’s representing several different non-standard dialects, not just one. I’m confident that someone or another has scorned Twain’s dialect-writing by now, but they shouldn’t have.
    When I read the book I thought the word “loathed” was another dialect word. I’d never heard or read it before. Likewise, in “A Suitable Boy” I assumed that “verrucas” was an Anglo-Indian dialect word from Hindi or somewhere like that. But no.

  16. The dump truck was invented by a man from my home town, Gar Wood, who went on to be a champion boat racer. You’ll still see GarWood dump trucks now and then.

Speak Your Mind