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Is “Tumping” Texan?

An etymological investigation into the Southern phrase.

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A tumped kayak.
Malenki

If you grew up in Texas, you may remember being reprimanded for tumping. As in, “John Nova Lomax, I can’t believe you tumped out your whole toy box out all over the floor again! You clean this mess up right now!” followed by my stern grandma’s order to leave our playroom and go sit on the stairs for a time-out.

For a kid growing up in Houston, tumping yourself over, or tumping things over, was always trouble. But where does the word come from?

For the tump-uninitiated, here is Merriam-Webster’s definition:

Tump:

  • (intransitive verb) chiefly Southern: to tip or turn over especially accidentally —usually used with over. “Sooner or later everybody tumps over. Nothing to worry about if you don’t get caught under the canoe” —Don Kennard
  • (transitive verb) chiefly Southern: to cause to tip over: overturn, upset—usually used with over

People can tump over. In what was meant as a heartwarming and sentimental Christmas Day tale, the Hood County News of Granbury once told the story of a long-ago toddler named Lillian whose family nicknamed her “Tumpie” because “she was so fat when she tried to walk she would tump over.”

You can also tump over in your canoe, as in Webster’s Kennard citation, or in your catamaran, as in an account from a 1979 Galveston Daily News article, wherein a twelve-year-old boy had to be rescued after he unwisely rowed a raft beyond the breakers so he could be on the scene where a double-hulled sailboat “tumped over” (or “capsized,” as they say everywhere else but Texas).

Hell, even your plans to govern America can be tumped over, as Molly Ivins wrote in a syndicated column about Bill Clinton in 1993. (Add an “r” to tump, and it happened all over again to Hillary Clinton just last year.)

So people can accidentally tump over, and people can intentionally tump things out. In a worst-case scenario, you can tump over and tump everything you were carrying out of your basket. In my experience, it was mostly used in accusatory tones, as with my grandmother busting me for tumping out my toys.

In a piece datelined Nacogdoches, columnist Gary Borders wrote a defense of “tump” in the Longview News-Journal back in 2003, pointing out that the word exists in British English (albeit with an entirely different meaning: namely, a grassy mound of some sort) and suggested a couple of possible etymologies for the Texan usage.

Borders theorizes that the Texan usage derived from “tumpoke,” a regional British colloquialism meaning “to fall head over heels.” His second theory pegs the origins of tump to the Algonquin Indians of the northeastern states, who invented a contraption called a “mattump,” which was a strap worn around the forehead to facilitate carrying large bundles on your back. This theory posits that when you stumbled while carrying such a burden, you had tumped over.

Then there’s this twenty-year-old post on Word Wizard, a word-freak message board:

Tump sounds like a regionalism, and seems as much as anything to be based on onomatopoeia, i.e. being echoic of the thump of the object as it hits the ground. The Eng. Dial. Dict. and thence the [Oxford English Dictionary] do have tump, but based in the Welsh twmp, a small hill, a mound, and itself meaning a small hill, a heap, uneven land and, spec. a pile of stored potatoes. It also offers tumpoke or tompoke, which does mean to fall (head over heels).

I don’t buy Borders’ ideas. “Tumpoke” is just silly, and “mattump” is too complicated. Besides, if it derives from an Algonquin word, why aren’t upstate New Yorkers still tumping over on the land the tribe once inhabited?

I lean more towards the Word Wizard onomatopoeic etymology, although the notion that it derives from a pile of stored potatoes does not even bear discussion. I believe tump is a cross between tip, as in “tip over,” and “dump,” as in “dump out,” and a “thump” is the result. (I thought I invented that etymology, but the Internet beat me to it.) And if I’m wrong, I’ll take my time-out on the stairs.

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  • ftworthbabe

    Momma, who was from NE Tennessee, always yelled at us to “stop tumping the swingset” when we swang too hard and the end of the frame would come out of the ground and go tump.

    • Monica Wilkins Mason

      I’ve heard this word all of my life. I’m from east Texas.

  • Dorothy Browning

    I grew up in Amarillo. Mother was from Oklahoma. Grandma was from Kentucky. We all said “tump”.

  • Flowers Darrin

    I was just fixin to say, that some imported BS slang, third generation born and raised Texan here, and never heard the word till now. And y’all still use the title “Texas” monthly, it should be called “Austin’s New Wave Magazine”, y’all have nothing to do with real Texas.

    • Richard Erwin

      Amen Brother forth generation Texan here

    • Go_Down_Moses

      Darrin Flowers .. you never heard the word”tump?” Seriously? And you call yourself a “third generation born and raised Texan?” Did Texas suddenly extend its borders to south Philadelphia or something? Both my grandfathers (born in Palestine in 1898 and Waco in 1902) used the word “tump” and I’ve been using it my whole dang life. Lordy … never heard the word “tump?” If that don’t beat all.

      • TheGoodWifeFan

        Exactly…don’t know how any Texan can claim they haven’t heard or used “tump”.

    • djtejas

      I’ve’ heard it since I was a little kid; 54 now…I guess it takes being a 5th generation Texan to know that

    • BadDreamsInHeaven

      Lookie here, newbie, as a 6th generation Texan, I think you need to take a serious look into your background. Your kinfolk are lyin’ to you about your pedigree if you ain’t never heard the word ‘tump’. Pffft.
      😉

  • Gary Denton

    I don’t recall the word growing up. It was always dump. Don’t dump your toys out of the box. You stumbled and dumped them. The boat overturned and dumped them overboard. My parents were from Florida and Texas.

  • Alyssa Burgin

    Fifth-generation Texan, fourth-generation San Antonian, never heard this word until my ex late-mother-in-law with East Texas origins used it. Makes me cringe just to see it written. Not a real Texas word, sorry.

    • TheGoodWifeFan

      Real as can be!

    • djtejas

      I’m 5th generation Texan…have known the word “tump” since I was very little…54 now.

  • Go_Down_Moses

    “Onomatopoeic” needs a couple of more vowels.

  • Bluesybrews

    Didn’t hear the word growing up in Houston but my ex from Oklahoma used it.

  • Melissa Allison

    As a Texan with all ancestors here by the 1850’s and inhabiting Williamson Co, Comanche Co, Eastland Co, Nueces Co; born in Harris Co and raised in Hidalgo Co, I can attest to using the term “tump over” my entire life. 😉

  • Ben

    All my family in Wichita Falls uses it, and we grew up saying it in Arlington, too. I always thought it was just a WFism, but sounds like it’s more widespread than that!

  • Jenny Kimbrough

    75 year old 5th generation east Texan here. I have used “tump” all my life. I said it yesterday, in fact. I learned it from my grandfather, who was born and raised in Nacogdoches and left the state of Texas on only a few occasions in his whole life. So, yes, it is undoubtedly. Texan. Shame on those of you who say it isn’t! 🙂

  • Nearly six decades in the west half of Texas, from a long line of country folk, and I’ve never ever heard the word.

    • John Nova Lomax

      There seems to be a west and east Texas divide over tump.

    • Sky Mirror

      Kinda hard to tump your canoe or tube when there isn’t any water.

      • St. Anger

        You can’t tump a tube.

        But you can tump over in a tube (rather, tump right out of a tube).

        You can, however, tump a canoe.

  • Well, What Next?

    Naaah, I grew up in Oklahoma and we said it too. Hmmm, maybe it was because I was born in Texas . . . .

  • Elizabeth V Skannal

    I am 56, live in La., been using “tump” all my life!

  • Brenda Sugarman

    Yes…tump it all the way over. Also…spill and dump are NOT the same thing.

  • Jenna McEachern

    I was fixin’ to say that some years ago, a bunch of us Texas women took a raft ride down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. After rafting through one big ol’ rapid, my friend laughed and said, “Y’all, I thought we were gonna tump over.” I tell you what, those river guides acted as if we were making that word up. We did set ’em straight, though.

  • Sara Hester

    i’m an Alabamian who grew up saying tump–particularlly–in relationship to the fear of swinging too high and tumping the swingset over. I have friends who grew up in the Florida panhandle who say “tump” as well. I think it is a Southernism rather than a Texanism. I lived in Texas during my 30’s. I don’t remember hearing anyone say “tump” during that time but I didn’t visit many swingsets during that time either.

  • Trudie Moses Sandberg

    I’m a 4th-generation Texan. I’ve heard and used ‘tump’ my entire life. Whether refering to the swingset, a bucket, wheelbarrow or anything else that spills over, falls over or is poured out.

  • Doris M. Koch

    My Texas roots in South Texas go back to the 1850’s, and I suspect we’ve been using “tump” ever since then!

    • LisaGay Wright

      My family arrived in SoTex in the 1850s from ‘Bama. We were “tumping” there, & still are “tumping” in Banquete! I personally have tumped many a swingset…..