Query: "A high tuck a-haw" in "Turkey in the Straw"

Sun Jun 13 21:26:41 UTC 2004

        One might suppose from context that "roll 'em up," "twist 'em up," and "a high tuckahaw" (as it is usually spelled, at least in my experience) refer to dance steps, but I don't know if there is any evidence to support that.  "Tuckahaw" was used in an 1851 work that I found on the Making of America database:

        <<In 1771, they [sc. the Chickasaws] lived in the centre of a large and gently rolling prairie, three miles square.  They obtained their water from holes, which dried up in summer.  In this prairie was an assemblage of houses one mile and a half long, very narrow and irregular, which was divided into seven towns, as follows:
        Mellattau--_hat and feather_.
        Chatelau--_copper town_.
        Chuckafalaya--_long town_.
        Hickihaw--_stand still_.
        Chucalissa--_great town_.
        Tuckahaw--a certain _weed_.
        Ash-wick-boo-ma--_red grass_.>>

Albert James Pickett, History of Alabama, and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, from the Earliest Period, Vol. I, pp. 147 - 48 (2d ed. 1851).  I assume that the italicized words are the translations of the towns' names.

        Admittedly, there is no obvious connection between a Chickasaw word, meaning a certain weed and also referring to a Chickasaw town, and the word used in "Turkey in the Straw," whose meaning is unknown but presumably does not refer to a weed.  I can't help thinking of tobacco, a weed whose leaves may be rolled and twisted and which, as an important agricultural product, might have some connection to hay and straw.  However, if the Chickasaws by "tuckahaw" meant "tobacco," then presumably Pickett would have written "tobacco" and not "a certain weed."

        So we are left with three alternatives:  First, that tuckahaw refers in some sense to tobacco, even though the Chickasaws used it to refer to a different word.  Second, that tuckahaw derives from the Chickasaw word but in this instance is used as a nonsense word.  Third, and perhaps most likely, that the similarity between the word in the song and the Chickasaw word is merely coincidental.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Gerald Cohen
Sent: Friday, June 11, 2004 5:45 PM
Subject: Query: "A high tuck a-haw" in "Turkey in the Straw"

A colleague has asked me about the meaning of "A high tuck-a-haw" in
the lyrics of the song "Turkey in the Straw."  Would anyone know?
The relevant verse is:

        Turkey in the straw,
        Turkey in the straw,
        Roll 'em up and twist 'em up
        A high tuck a-haw
        And hit 'em up a tune called
        Turkey in the Straw.

Also, what does "Roll 'em up and twist 'em up" refer to?

Gerald Cohen

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