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Karen Rice Karen Rice
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       “Chuck” is an amazing and versatile word.  Both a noun and a verb, it does duty many places in the English language.  Merriam-Webster tells me it can be used as a term of affection, something I did not know.  I just can’t visualize how to use it that way.  I do know you can chuck a small child under the chin.  A larger child would probably bop you in the face.  In its verb guise we commonly use it to indicate we’ve tossed something out the window or into the trash.  The origin is Middle English, and perhaps it relates to polo chukkers where they engage in knocking about a ball.  

       The noun has found its way into the industrial revolution.  There are jaw chucks, which are clamping devices, and screw chucks which are rotating collet clamps, and chuck screws, which serve to adjust screw chucks.  I expect I’ve just never was around to hear an engineer discuss jaw chucks.  I have, however, had the following advice from an accomplished carpenter.  “Grab that chuck screw and stick it in the little doohickey to tighten up your drill or you’re gonna lose that bit.”

       In the gaming world they have a dice game called chuck-a-luck.  Probably named for the tossing of the dice, it more aptly lets you know you are indeed chucking your luck, because the house advantage is much higher than the norm, which is high to begin with in all games of chance.

       In the food world there is the chuck roast, a flavorful and juicy cut of beef, which, if properly prepared will never cause you to upchuck.  On the prairies, cowboys rarely got to eat chuck roast, but their beans and fatback were hauled around in a chuckwagon and prepared with ingredients which came from a chuck box.  In other words, chuck means chow.

       In the macabre humor one associates with firefighters, Chuck Roast is the brand name for Nomex fiber clothing, flame resistant apparel manufactured for the purpose of keeping those brave people from themselves becoming chuck roast

       As we move to the entertainment venues, we find Chuck Norris kicking his way to forgetability, a television sitcom about a computer geek drafted by the CIA, and a heavy metal band called Chuck Roast.  I’ve never heard their music, and don’t think I want to.  They wear stocking masks that conceal their entire head.  Perhaps so their fans and critics alike can’t identify them?

       In the world of nature we have the woodchuck, Marmota monax, of tongue twister fame.  Just how much wood can that little dude chuck?  His more colorful moniker is whistle-pig, due to the high-pitched warning squeal he sounds out to his colony when a predator approaches.  We also have the Chuck-wills-widow, a nightjar whose common name is goatsucker.  Wonder why?  Its name came from its incessant call, not as sweet as its cousin, the Whip-poor-will.  Indigenous to the American south, it was named around 1795 by Carolinians, who had nothing better to do.

       There are many other uses of the word chuck.  I’ve barely scratched the surface.  I could go on and on, but I expect you’d rather I left it unscratched.  My final reference for the word chuck relates to a guy I knew.  I can’t call him a friend.  He was dating my younger sister, and we were often thrown together socially, despite a mutual dislike.  His name was Chuck, and he carped endlessly about the Oklahoma custom of calling an unrepaired hole in the road a chuckhole.  People would groan when he approached, knowing what the topic of conversation would be.  “In Philadelphia it’s a pothole, people.  Why can’t you call it by its right name?”  Finally growing weary of his complaint, one day I replied, “I just don’t understand why you prefer pothole, Chuck.  Have you ever found pot in the bottom of one of those things?”  People shook my hand and patted me on the back in their gratitude over the silencing of Chuck.

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