un-holda, m.n: a fiend. (“un-hol-dah”)
pūcel, m.n: a goblin or demon (like Shakespeare’s sprite called Puck in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. (“pook-el”)
dwimor, n.n: an illusion, delusion, apparition; phantom. (“dwih-mor”)
Image from British Library Medieval Manuscripts blog: Detail of an historiated initial ‘D'(ilexi) with a woman (Duchess Dionora?) with a skull for a face admiring herself in a hand mirror, with ‘Memento homo’ in a roundel at the left, at the beginning of the Office of the Dead, from a Book of Hours (‘The Hours of Dionara of Urbino’), central Italy (Florence or Mantua), c. 1480. British Library, MS Yates Thompson 7, f. 174r.
hell-cniht, m.n: an infernal servant, a devil as servant. (“hel-k-nit”)
Image from Bibliothèque nationale de France: Matfré Ermengau, Breviari d’amor et Lettre à sa soeur; Chansonnier occitan. France, 1301-1400.
ellen-gǣst, m.n: a bold or powerful spirit. (“el-len-gast”)
scucca, m.n: a devil, demon; Satan, Beelzebub. Possible origin for ModE “shuck”. (“shuck-kah”)
23 Oct 2015:
Yesterday I got this response from one of my followers on Twitter:
I thought this was a particularly interesting idea because I’d always thought of shucks as a more polite way of saying sh*t. So I’ve done a bit of research.
The definition the Oxford English Dictionary gives for this particular use of shucks is for shuck (n. 2):
This definition is listed under shuck (n. 2):
As you can see, the etymology is (inconveniently) unknown, but the noun was used as early as the 17th century to mean the husk/pod/shell on corn or nuts. In the 19th century it was used to mean something that was worthless (like a corn husk). It was also used in the phrase “not worth shucks” to mean “good for nothing”. Churchill’s quotation in part b indicates that this was said in my home state of Missouri (and the OED does describe this word as “Chiefly dial. and U.S.”).
If you look back up at definition 3, you see that shucks was used by the famous Missouri writer Mark Twain:
So all of this goes back to corn husks, not Satan, which is a bit disappointing, although the etymology of this shuck is still enigmatically “unknown”.
I also found a theory about shuck being a combination of sh*t and f*ck, but this idea (while appealing) is unsupported.
In any case, the word shuck that derives from OE scucca (shuck, n. 1, in the OED):
As you can see, the use of the word to mean “devil” became obsolete by the end of the Middle Ages, but the modern dialectal use of the word to mean a kind of ghost hound is first cited in the mid-19th century.
So unfortunately the expression “aw, shucks” doesn’t seem to be related to the devil, so by saying it you are not in fact calling on Satan. Unless of course that “unknown” etymology really does somehow meander its way back to the early medieval definition.
Bodily function curses (sh*t, f*ck) are considered far worse in modern English than religious curses (“Oh my god”, “bloody hell”), but in the Middle Ages the opposite was true, as Melissa Mohr explains in her fascinating book Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the word we use to replace sh*t and f*ck had something to do with the devil after all?
To end, here’s a really cool image of the ghost dog Shuck.
dēofol-scīn, n.n: a diabolical vision, phantom, demon. (“deh-oh-vol-sheen”)
hell-rūna, m.n: one skilled in the mysteries of hell, a sorcerer, necromancer. (“hell-roo-nah”)
dēmon, m.n: a demon, devil. (“deh-mon”)
The two weeks leading up to Halloween will feature monster words-of-the-day.
wundor, n.n: a wonder; a circumstance that excites astonishment; a miracle; a wondrous thing.
And here’s one of my favourite (kind of lame) miracles: St Cuthbert’s horse who miraculously finds bread and meat in the roof.
Image from British Library Medieval Manuscripts blog: Miniature of the young St Cuthbert kneeling in prayer, while his horse miraculously finds food hidden in the roof. Yates Thompson MS 26, f. 14r; England (Durham); 4th quarter of the 12th century.
From Chapter 5 of Bede’s prose Life of St Cuthbert (translation of the Latin):
“When the evening drew near, and he perceived that he could not finish his intended journey the same day, and that there was no house at hand in which he could pass the night, he presently fell upon some shepherds’ huts, which, having been slightly constructed in the summer, were now deserted and ruinous. Into one of these he entered, and having tied his horse to the wall, placed before him a handful of hay, which the wind had forced from the roof. He then turned his thoughts to prayer, but suddenly, as he was singing a psalm, he saw his horse lift up his head and pull out some straw from the roof, and among the straw there fell down a linen cloth folded up, with something in it. When he had ended his prayers, wishing to see what this was, he came and opened the cloth, and found in it half of a loaf of bread, still hot, and some meat, enough of both to serve him for a single meal. In gratitude for the Divine goodness, he exclaimed, “Thanks be to God, who of his bounty hath deigned to provide a meal for me when I was hungry, as well as a supper for my beast.” He therefore divided the piece of bread into two parts, of which he gave one to his horse and kept the other for himself.“