My huckleberry friend

Photo of huckleberries

The phrase, my huckleberry friend, appears in one of the songs I’m learning at moment – Moon River. At a choir rehearsal last night one of the sopranos said that the word huckleberry means ‘a person who is right for a job’. I’d come across the word before but had never thought what it might mean.

According to World Wide Words the phrase ‘I’m your huckleberry’ means that you are “just the right person for a given job, or a willing executor of some commission.”

Huckleberries are small, dark, sweet berries of plants in the family Ericaceae, in two closely related genera: Vaccinium and Gaylussacia [source]. They were originally called hurtleberries, a dialect word for bilberry, which they resembled, by settlers in the Americas, and this word later became huckleberry. By the early 19th century the word huckleberry was associated with things humble and minor, and tiny amounts. This association was used by Mark Twain for his character Huckleberry Finn – a boy “of lower extraction or degree” than Tom Sawyer.

In the 1830s people started to metaphorically compare huckleberries and persimmons, which are much larger, to describe things that are somewhat beyond one’s reach or abilities. Somehow the word huckleberry also became associated with helpers and assistants, and also with insignificant and nice people.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word huckleberry is probably an alteration of the Middle English hurtilbery (whortleberry), from the Old English horte (whortleberry). The OED says that whortleberry (/ˈhwɜːt(ə)lbɛrɪ/) is a South-western (England) dialect form of hurtleberry, which is derived from the word hurt (bilberry), which possibly comes from the French heraldic term heurt(e) (small Azure balls) or from the French word heurt (mark left by a blow).

This entry was posted in English, Language, Music, Words and phrases.

4 Responses to My huckleberry friend

  1. Ellen says:

    Hmmmm…. I always thought that phrase in “Moon River” referred to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn – best of friends who went rafting down a river together. Maybe I’ve been wrong all of these years, but I like that interpretation.

  2. Andrew says:

    Now how could you mention that phrase, “I’m your huckleberry”, and not mention the movie and actor that made it famous and brought it back into the popular lexicon?

    For everyone who doesn’t know:

    It’s from the 1993 movie, Tombstone


  3. Ben Livingstone says:

    Huckleberries are very similar to saskatoons, which grown in Canada.

  4. CuConnacht says:

    I have a vague memory of hearing Johnny Mercer saying that he had no idea what he meant by the phrase, but it sounded good.

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