Think back to all those times you’ve hurled a brick through a window, fellow Texans. Did you chuck it, or did you chunk it?
There hasn’t been much study on the subject–unlike “doodle bug” and “Bowie,” it’s not a question in the most prominent dialect surveys out there. But anecdotally, it seems that most native Texans “chunk” when out-of-staters “chuck.” Others still “chuck” some things and “chunk” others.
Or at least that’s how the folk definitions have it. Urbandictionary.com defines “to chunk” thusly: “To throw something at someone… originates in Texas..ya’ll know what I’m talkin’ ’bout!!” Like other Southernisms, it may not have originated here, but the meaning certainly retains peculiar strength in Texas.
The verb “to chunk” goes back a lot longer than online slang dictionaries. According to the bulkily titled 1877 Dictionary of Americanisms: A Glossary of Words and Expressions Usually Regarded as Peculiar to the United States, “to chunk” was “of Southern and Western” derivation and meant “to throw sticks or chips at one.”
There is no clear and concise etymology for “chuck” or “chunk” in the sense of throwing things. Some sources say its origins are unknown, while others state that it comes from the Old French “choquer,” meaning “to knock” or “to bump.” Some schools of thought claim that it is related to the act of “chucking” someone under the chin as a playful gesture. And according to Dictionary.com, “chucking” became “chunking” in some parts of America sometime after 1825.
Whereas “chucking” is more or less acceptable American English, there is no small level of snobbery directed against “chunking,” as typified by this short diatribe from a Washington State University professor:
In casual conversation, you may get by with saying “Chuck [throw] me that monkey wrench, will you?” But you will mark yourself as illiterate beyond mere casualness by saying instead “Chunk me that wrench.” This is a fairly common substitution in some dialects of American English.
Most etymologies suggest a Southern origin for “chunking,” which would explain the discrimination against the word—Northerners are always branding Southern and Texan English as ignorant and incorrect. That’s also supported by the usage of “chunking” in the African nation of Liberia.
Liberia is the only country in the world to have been colonized by American Southerners, and their national language is based on African-American Southern diction. (Liberia was founded when freed slaves, after learning English in the American South, were exported back to Africa, in a vain attempt to undo the wrong that was African-American bondage in America.) The nation’s founders must have brought “to chunk” with them, since it lives on, at least according to Cracking the Code: The Confused Traveler’s Guide to Liberian English:
Verb. 1. to hurl, throw. Chunk da ball na! (Chunk the ball now!) “Throw the ball now!”
2.v; This word does not require an object and can stand alone to mean “to throw an object.” “Yu muh na chunk ya fren, yeh!” (Meaning, “You must not chunk your friend, you hear?”) which in turn means you must not chunk things at your friend.
Within Texas, the word has proved widely applicable. In 1906, the Houston Post published a poem called “Dead Sea Fruit” by one June Mortimer Lewis, which contains the couplet “And there’s no one in the world who dares to say me nay/If I should wish to go to swim, or to chunk rocks all day.” Fans of the Astros in the sixties and seventies will remember “now you chunkin’ it in there” as a favorite catchphrase of radio announcer Loel Passe, who used it as an expression of encouragement for a previously wayward pitcher who had rediscovered his groove and was again striking out opposing batters.
I am a “chunk” man and rarely if ever use the word “chuck,” and I think of them as having slightly different connotations. “Chunk” is more violent and forceful. You “chunk” rocks at people or vicious stray dogs coming at you, or bricks through windows, or fastballs at sluggers from other baseball teams, but you might simply “chuck” a crumpled piece of paper in the trash. But my conception of the verb is not accepted by all.
Houstonian Becky Ardell Downs agrees with the trash part. “To chuck something means to put it in the trash,” she believes. “Chunk is what you do to a rock or something heavy and vaguely unimportant.” Another Texan, Hans Hansen, had his own distinctions: “I think ‘chuck’ involves aim and ‘chunk’ is just to throw it away, out a window, et cetera.”
Texan native Sandy Francis mirrors my definition, and colorfully so: “We chunked shit all over hell and back. Over yonder, at other chumps, at trains, whatever. Chunked. Only in Texas, though. Can’t remember hearing it any place else.”
I can testify to not hearing “chunk” or “chuck” in the Nashville of the seventies and early eighties—people up there just threw things.
And as for chunking, as opposed to chucking, things get even more complex. In that it now describes a widespread hand gesture, like that Old French word for “chucking” someone’s chin, it perhaps has come close to a full circle.
In today’s Houston hip-hop culture, there’s the gesture of “chunkin’ the deuce,” which, while often confused by outsiders as a gang sign, actually means throwing up a (usually sideways) two-fingered hippie peace sign at people. It most often means “peace out,” or “I respect you, and goodbye,” but it can also signify, “I’ve said my piece and I am done with you,” or “I just destroyed you verbally, and I am now dropping the mic and leaving you behind in a heap of smoldering ashes.” It can also mean “I’ve shown you everything you need to know about how awesome I am, and now I’m on my way,” as in Bun B’s “Draped Up”:
“I’m lookin’ real shiny–you can see me from a mile away/Thought you were doin’ it ’til I came and took ya smile away/Pull up on ya side in the turnin’ lane/Pop my trunk, break you off, chunk a deuce, then I’m Cadillac turnin’, mayne.”
Can we please send Bun B up to Washington State to go chunk the deuce at any professors who claim our dialect marks us as illiterate?