Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Unimportant Huckleberries


Image result for huckleberry finnI was listening to Moon River and noticed the lines:

Waiting round the bend
My huckleberry friend

And it occurred to me that I didn't know what a huckleberry was. The word, it turns out, has several meanings, one of which, astonishingly, is a kind of berry. But it also means, and has meant since 1835, a person of little consequence. Somebody unimportant.

This seems rather important to the naming of Mark Twain's character: Person of Little Consequence Finn, star of two books. Nobody seems to mention it.

Even the one essay on how Twain named the character - Huckleberries and Humans: On the naming of Huckleberry Finn - doesn't seem to mention it*. Instead, it suggests that the name comes from the fact that huckleberries, that's to say plants of the species Gaylussacia, can't be domesticated.

It also occurs to me that Huckleberry Finn obeys my rule that characters names should be half very boring and half very interesting: Huckleberry Finn, Indiana Jones, David Copperfield, Luke Skywalker, which I wrote about in an old blog post here.

There is another meaning of Huckleberry, though. As of the 1930s, it could mean sweetheart. So, I would imagine that the huckleberry friend, is just that.

All of these meanings, of course, are rural and Southern, but that fits with the fact that Audrey Hepburn is meant to be a secret hick.


*Well, the abstract doesn't mention it at all. I'd walk over to the British Library and read the whole thing, but it's raining.

3 comments:

  1. In the film Tombstone, Doc Holliday says, 'I'm your huckleberry.'

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  2. I'm afraid the article does mention the meaning in question:
    'An American word, "huckleberry" originated about 1670 and appeared in some common expressions with connotations of insignificance and rusticity, both qualities appropriate for Huck.'

    But, much more importantly, it goes on to say 'The real-life model for Huck was Twain's boyhood friend, Tom Blankenship'. Here you go - half boring, half interesting...

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