Meaning of Idiom ‘I’m Your Huckleberry”
I’m your huckleberry is a once common idiom that meant, I’m the person you are looking for, I’m the man for the job, or, simply, I’m your man; I’m inconsequential, unimportant.
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Although this idiom is not as common as it was during the 1800s, I have been informed by YouTube viewers that it is still heard in some areas of the south, such as Alabama and Georgia.
This idiom would have been and is used in various ways, including as a response to anyone looking for help or someone to do work, etc. It could mean simply “I’m the man for the job” but it also could be somewhat self-deprecating, calling on the tiny size of the American Huckleberry.
Examples Of Use
“A penny for whoever will unload my supplies,” said the man with the wagon. “I’m your huckleberry,” replied a young man on the street.
“I’m your huckleberry,” Doc Holliday said to Johnny Ringo. “That’s my game.”
“You need someone to work your store? I’m your huckleberry.”
During the early 1800s, this idiom derived from the name of a wild blue to black colored berry, similar to the blueberry, the huckleberry, which grows primarily in the southeast of the United States. Huckleberries, since they are so small, came to be used figuratively to describe anything minor or of little importance.
The idiom I’m your huckleberry, in modern times, was made famous in the movie Tombstone from 1993, starring Kurt Russel and Val Kilmer. This movie was another in a long line of movies about Wyatt Earp and events in Tombstone, Arizona during the 188Os, including the famous “Shootout at the OK Corral.”
It was Doc Holliday who uttered the unfamiliar phrase to the character Johnny Ringo: “I’m your huckleberry, that’s just my game.” Whether or not Doc Holliday went around saying this all the time, we do not know, but it was used in the 1929 book Tombstone, by Walter Noble Burns. The expression itself appeared in print as early as 1883.
Although, I’m your huckleberry was probably used in various ways. A related idiom, a huckleberry over my persimmon was used to mean that something was beyond someone’s ability. I’m your huckleberry basically means I’m the man for the job, or I’m your man, you can count on me. In Doc’s case, it meant also, “I’m ready to fight.” Normally, the expression seemed to be in response to a need.
It has been claimed that Mark Twain named Huckleberry Finn for the idiom. Twain may have used the name Huckleberry to mean small and insignificant. As well, while the character is most known as the main character in the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we first encounter him as Tom Sawyer’s sidekick in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. If I’m your huckleberry, the idiom, was on Twain’s mind when he named the character, then Huck Finn’s role as a sidekick or willing companion would have fit well, as this is also a possible allusion of the idiom. See more on Victoria Wilcox, the Art of Story.
The idiom may be based on the ease of picking the huckleberry, as multiple berries can be stripped off the bush by hand, making the more literal meaning ‘pick me’ or ‘I’m an easy pick.’
There are several different berries that are called huckleberries in the United States. They actually come from two different genera. I am assuming that the huckleberry of the genus Vaccinium which is more plentiful in the Northwest and places like Montana, is not the huckleberry with which we are concerned. Instead, I am assuming that it is the “huckleberry” of the genus Gaylussacia that is more native to the East. These are especially plentiful in the Southeast, which makes Georgia part of their territory. Doc Holiday was from Georgia.
I’m from Mississippi and I heard of them and have eaten them (crunchy and tart) but I never saw them grow wild. If this idiom arose in the southeast and the southern United States, this may all make sense. Different plants that come from an entirely different genus but which share the same name can be very confusing!
Did Val Kilmer Say “I’m Your Huckle Bearer” Instead of Huckleberry?
The simple answer to this popular question is no. Although many fans hear Kilmer say what seems to be ‘huckle bearer’ in the movie, he actually only says huckleberry. This is not only according to the script but according to Kilmer himself, who has answered this question on more than one occasion, and who even included a passage on this question in his recent memoir, which is entitled I’m Your Huckleberry:
By the way, despite some fans’ contention that in the 1800s the handles of caskets were called huckles and thus the word huckle bearer was a term for pall bearer, I do not say “I’m your huckle bearer.” I say, “I’m your huckleberry,” connotating “I’m your man. You’ve met your match.
Is the Original Idiom I’m Your Huckle Bearer?
Again, the answer to this question is no. Some time after the release of the movie, it was suggested that not only did the actor say the term huckle bearer in the movie but that this was actually the true or original idiom. This myth may have come from a single blog post that subsequently influenced even writers of books on the subject.
It is true that the handles of coffins used to be called huckles and that therefore a pallbearer might be called a huckle bearer. Hence, it seems logical that Doc Holiday might say to Johnny Ringo, “I’m your huckle bearer” or “I’ll be your huckle bearer” to mean “I’ll be carrying your coffin.” This has led many fans to believe that not only did Doc Holiday use this as a clever turn-of-phrase, but that this was actually a commonly used idiom in the old West. Note that Doc Holiday never says ‘I’ll be your huckleberry” in the movie, only ‘I’m your huckleberry,’ so the imaginary ‘I’ll be your coffin bearer’ is even more of a stretch.
We must be careful to differentiate between rational explanation and historical evidence as rational explanation creates what is often termed folk etymology (colloquially…linguists have stricter definition). The idea that the original idiom was “I’m your huckle bearer” and that it later morphed into “I’m your huckleberry” is folk etymology, invented recently. While the idiom I’m your huckleberry can be found in print during the 1800s on numerous occasions copious searching on my part has turned up no mention of the phrase I’m your huckle bearer. None whatsoever.
As for what the real Doc Holiday said, we may never know. Doc’s now-famous phrase was taken from the 1929 Walter Noble Burns, Tombstone. This book may have been influenced by an earlier book. There is no evidence that the real Doc Holiday ever used this phrase, let alone habitually. Much of the happenings surrounding the events that take place in the movie are myth and, while the producers of the movie like to claim that this particular movie is less mythical than others, we cannot be sure of many of the details of the actual events that took place during that time, including the whereabouts of Doc Holiday during the murder of Johnny Ringo!
More Idioms Starting with I
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- To Your Heart’s Content
- Cross Your Fingers
- Your Guess is as Good As Mine
- Wrap Yourself in the Flag
- Penny for Your Thoughts, a
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