Huckleberries, mountain fires, and meaning

Posted on May 14, 2016 by

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Perhaps it’s the mountain fires we’ve had in the Shenandoah Valley recently, but I’ve found myself thinking about something more commonly associated with summer… that incredible wild fruit known as the humble huckleberry. What do mountain fires have to do with huckleberries? Well, ultimately fires help huckleberry crops, of course. Yet, these raging mountain fires we’ve had lately won’t do us any good, really, as it’s moderate underbrush burning that works in favor of an increased huckleberry crop… not raging forest fires.

Nonetheless, with huckleberries on the brain, I thought I’d conduct a little research, and there will be more to follow on this. In the meantime, consider this little tidbit (cited as coming from the Dictionary of American Slang: Second Supplemented Edition (Crowell, 1975), regarding the use of the word huckleberry in the 1800s:

“Huckleberry” was commonly used in the 1800’s in conjunction with “persimmon” as a small unit of measure. “I’m a huckleberry over your persimmon” meant “I’m just a bit better than you.” As a result, “huckleberry” came to denote idiomatically two things. First, it denoted a small unit of measure, a “tad,” as it were, and a person who was a huckleberry could be a small, unimportant person–usually expressed ironically in mock self-depreciation.

Now before everybody starts going all “Tombstone” on me, I’ll let you know, up front, that I’m inclined to believe the phrase “I’ll be your huckleberry” might actually mean “I’ll be your huckle-bearer”… which really translates to “I’ll be your pallbearer”; “huckle” being the handles on coffins. I know, I know… “I’ll be your huckleberry” sounds a lot better. Anyway, for a good “study” on this, consider this post from Rafael’s Blog.

In the meantime, I’ll continue building my “huckleberry post” (which will be more about the significance of the huckleberry in early 19th century America), which might actually appear at around the time when the fruit on those bushes in the blue hills around me is literally ripe for the pickin’.