91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Just truckin' along: the many uses of truck

You may not have much truck with trucks, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never truck some truck.

That sentence might be a little confusing, but it shows something that’s easy to forget: the word truck is pretty versatile. It’s almost like the Swiss Army Knife of the English language! But how does a word like truck come to mean so many things? What’s the story there?

According to University of Michigan English Professor Anne Curzan, truck is a word where several uses developed independently of each other.

“The truck in ‘have no truck with’ is different from the truck that drives around,” says Curzan.

“So [in] ‘have no truck with,’ that truck means business dealings [or] interactions,” she says. “So if you have no truck with someone, you don’t interact with them.”

This type of truck originally came from the French word trochee or troche, which meant “to exchange one thing for another.” This definition naturally broadened into “having business exchanges,” and then just “to have relations or dealings with.”

When Curzan looked into this usage of truck, she noticed a trend: We tend to use it in the negative.

“Now, you can say that you ‘have truck with’ someone or something,” says Curzan. “But much more often we say, ‘have no truck with.’”

Curzan found that there are plenty of things we want nothing to do with. Besides individuals, we also want “no truck with” ideologies, such as anti-Semitism.

Of course, the most common usage of truck is the vehicle, and that usage comes from a slightly different origin.

“That goes back to a Latin word for an iron hoop,” says Curzan. “When it first comes into English, it refers to a wheel.”

Eventually, this truck comes to refer to wagons and vehicles that carry loads. After vehicles become motorized, we finally have the truck that we can see on the road today.

Naturally, the vehicle truck gave birth to its own family of verb uses based on carting things around. For example, one might truck a load of produce to the market or truck firewood to a campsite.

“And then we have an expression like ‘keep on trucking,’” says Curzan, referring to the 1960s slogan first heard from Mr. Natural, a comic character created by Robert Crumb.

While the expression fell off after the 1960s, it’s currently experiencing a bit of a resurgence.

“When I looked in Google books,” says Curzan, “it is twice as common in 2008 as it was in 1990.”

“Everything old is new again,” observes Michigan Radio’s Rina Miller.

“And we’re just truckin’ along,” says Curzan.

Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Related Content