Sunday, June 17, 2007

Tuckasegee is NOT a Four-Letter Word

I was piloting a barge on Fontana yesterday. The party of discovery was returning to ‘Larkey after investigating the unsolved mysteries of Bushnell. Captain called out to me, "There on our port side, Gula', take this vessel up the Tuck."

Captain had said the wrong thing to this sailor. I fired back, "Tuckasegee is NOT a four-letter word. Clean up your language, cap’n."

[Aloud] Waccamaw and Wateree, Pacolet and Keowee, Chattooga, Tallulah, Cheoah, Uwharrie.

There’s music in the names of rivers. You could construct a whole new language from the names of rivers.

Where I grew up, we took considerable pride in knowing that the nearby Pee Dee was the original river for Stephen Foster's song Old Folks at Home (commonly known by the second draft of its first line, "Way down upon the Swanee River"). If we'd had our way, the song would still say Pee Dee.



So I was very pleased to hear from someone who shares my disdain for diminishing the venerable name of the Tuckasegee River into a four-letter word:
"…like what you said about calling river the Tuck..it is worthy of speaking the entire name Tuckaseegee River. grated me the first time I heard it used that way…"

THANK YOU! This is no trivial matter.

According to James Mooney in Myths of the Cherokee (1900) the original Cherokee name was Tsiksitsi, a word whose original meaning has been lost.

George Ellison, writing in the Smoky Mountain News:
"Tuckaseege" (also spelled "Tuckaseigee") is said to be the anglicized form of the Cherokee word "tsiksitsi," which reputedly means "crawling terrapin." But the Cherokee names for water turtle ("saligugi"), terrapin ("daksi"), and softshell turtle ("ulanawa" or its lexical variant "klanawa") don’t seem very applicable in this context.

It was called the Tuckasege in Robert Strange’s remarkable 1839 novel, Eoneguski, a story set in the Balsams and the Cowees. And that’s how it was spelled in the 1883 travel book, Heart of the Alleghenies, By Ben Grosscup and Wilbur Zeigler.

For a while in the early 20th century, Tuckaseigee was a common spelling and that’s how it is on the linen postcard from the 1930s. And you'll still see that spelling floating around.


Here’s the official word on the subject, from the Board of Geographic Names of the U. S. Geological Survey. Effective 1897, it was the Tuckasegee River, though Tucksaseigee and Tuckaseegee are also listed as variants.

What I get from all this is that no matter how you spell it, you’ll spell it right, just so long as you don’t turn it into a four-letter word.

1 comment:

mountainmyrtle said...

here we are still trying to get people to not use Tuck. and of course Whee for Cullowhee is awful too. thanks!