Word of the Week: Shuck

Word of the week
Shuck probably seems like a weird word to have as my first Word of the Week, but it’s a word that I’ve come across a few times over the past couple of days, in several American-written novels, and it’s a word that has intrigued both myself and my other half, because it’s not a word that either of us had come across, in the context that it was used, or even the spelling.

In Cassandra Clare’s City of Lost Souls, the word is used in three different variations:

“He was shucking off his coat and hanging it on a hook on the wall”
“…was about to shuck off his jacket when there was the sound of a stifled chuckle.”
“…she shucked off her jeans and cami and slipped the dress over her head.”

I don’t think that I have ever encountered the word shuck before.

Then, in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, I came across a very different use of the word:

“Mother is on the back porch with Pascagoula and Jameso while they shuck oysters.”

On encountering the word again, I decided to look it up, and this is basically what I found out:

1. To remove the shucks (outer covering) from maize or shellfish: shuck and drain the oysters.

The definition certainly helps to explain what Stockett means, in The Help, and is starts to give an idea regarding what Clare is saying.

2. Informal. a person or thing regarded as worthless or contemptible: he said the idea was a shuck.

This definition didn’t really fit in with the context either.

3. exlaim. (shucks) Informal, chiefly North American used to express surprise, regret, irritation, or, in response to praise, self-deprecation: “Thank you for getting it.” “Oh, shucks, it was nothing.”

Whilst this one also didn’t match what I was looking for, it did make me realise that I have encountered a variant of the word before. Nevertheless, the next definitions explained exactly what I was looking for:

4. Informal. Take off (a garment): she shucked off her nightdress. 5. Informal. Abandon; get rid of: the regimes ability to shuck off it’s totalitarian characteristics.

Personally, I don’t think that “shuck” is the word that I would use, especially in the context that Clare used it in all of the above occurences, it always feels that it should be spelt “shook”, but even then it doesn’t feel like the word that I personally would have chosen. I think “shrugged” or “removed” feel more appropriate in these cases.

However, it doesn’t entirely fit into the context featured in City of Lost Souls. Although the knowledge that the word is “chiefly North American” does explain to me why I had no recollection of encountering the word before.


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