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:

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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):

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This definition is listed under shuck (n. 2):

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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.”).

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If you look back up at definition 3, you see that shucks was used by the famous Missouri writer Mark Twain:

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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):

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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.


wæter-egesa, m.n: water-terror.


Image: A siren from The Medieval Bestiary: ‘The siren is a deadly creature, half human, half bird or fish. Early sources say the siren is human (always female) from the head to the navel, and bird from the waist down. Later sources say that the siren is fish from the waist down, like a mermaid. They usually have wings. In some cases sirens are described as having both bird’s feet and a fish tail […]. Sirens charm men with their beautiful singing. Sailors who are attracted to the singing fall asleep; the sirens then attack the men and tear their flesh.’ Definitely sounds like a kind of wæter-egesa!