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When having your druthers includes learning about "druthers"

If we had our druthers, we would spend every morning nerding out about language and grammar. 

Fortunately, we do get the opportunity to flex our language muscles every Sunday. We're also fortunate to have awesome listeners like Kalen, who recently asked us where the phrase "if I had my druthers" comes from.

Kalen, there's nothing we'd druther do than figure this out.

"Druther" is a mashed together version of the phrase "would rather." If you say "would rather" quickly enough, you can see how these two words blur together as "druther." When someone says "if I had my druthers," they're talking about what they would do if they had their choice or preference in a matter.

This phrase shows up in various places in popular culture, including, perhaps most famously, Al Capp's long-running comic strip Lil' Abner. In fact, Capp used "druther" in his comic so often, he's sometimes mistaken for having coined the term.

While Capp may have helped popularize "druther," the earliest print reference we have so far is actually from 1833. Etymologist Barry Popick tracked down this quote in an issue of American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine: "I'd druther live in the woods anytime by myself than on the best plantation in the country."

In this example, "druther" is used as a verb, but it can also be used as a noun.

In Mark Twain's 1896 novel Tom Sawyer, Detective Huck Finn says to Tom, "Any way you'd druther have it, that is the way I'd druther have it." When Tom responds to Huck, he uses "druther" as a noun: "There ain't any druthers about it Huck Finn. Nobody said anything about druthers." 

Over time, we've seen variants of "druthers" such as "ruthers" and "rathers," though those don't seem to be quite as popular. Interestingly, Google Books says that "druthers" has been on the rise since the 1960s -- do you use it? 


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.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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