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Thursday, March 1, 2012


When one reviews the dictionary, each word indicates its proper enunciation, meaning and how the word has come about. Often I see the word Chuck Wagon written as two words, yet some words with wagon are written as one word. What makes it the correct spelling? If a stagecoach is a stage coach then why is it not correct to have a chuck wagon a chuckwagon?  

Chuck Wagon or is it a Chuckwagon
Photo by Bart Saucier, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Charles Goodnight is credited with the invention in 1866, but the word is not used until 1867 for the first time in print. What did Charlie call his wagon? I suppose he just called it a wagon. Some folklore states it was name after him, but contrary to belief, the word chuck comes from old English referring to staples of food. So calling a chuck wagon, the food wagon might be appropriate, except to us cowboys who understand that the chuck wagon is more than just food. It carried an array of tools to take care of nearly every detail of business. Items of personal gear, tents, bedrolls, extra saddles, farrier equipment to medical and dental supplies in addition to food and water for the trail. 

When I spoke with   Benjamin Korzec, Associate Editor of  Merriam - Webster Dictionary, he explained the purpose of the dictionary and the history of the word, "CHUCKWAGON."

"As a descriptive dictionary, our goal is to show how words are actually being spelled and used as opposed to being a prescriptive dictionary in which we dictate, for instance, how to spell words. So, all of our entries are based on citations of actual usage taken from various publications over periods of time," states Mr. Korzec.

"We also date our words using these citations. So, the fact that the concept of the chuck wagon started sometime in 1866 is not necessarily relevant to a lexicographer--though it would be to a historian. 1867 is the earliest date that we have actual print evidence of the term. The quotation on which the date is based is from D'Oyle in Notches: "The sun blistered the paint upon the 'mess box' behind the 'chuck-waggon.'"  You have probably noted the "misspelling of "chuck wagon," but a look at the word's history shows that the spelling evolved (ultimately to "chuck wagon") over the years. Being that the word is still used today, the spelling could possibly change in the future, but that is something we do not have a hand in: it's up to writers and their spelling preference, which we keep track of through our citation database.  Also, looking at our definition of "chuck wagon," I notice that the meaning of the word referring to "an informal buffet" is also commonly spelled "chuckwagon." That might influence the overall spelling of the "wagon" sense at some point."

Benjamin Korzec ended "If you feel adamant about changing the word to a closed spelling, I can only suggest that you start using it that way yourself and encourage others to do the same."  So when you see our deliberate spelling of Chuckwagon, know that it is not the purpose of misspelling the word, but to make the chuck wagon as important as the bandwagon or stagecoach.  Beside, when it's your home, you should be aloud the liberty to call your home what ever you like and for the cowboy out on the range, the Chuckwagon is home sweet home.
"Chuckwagon" photo by Bart Saucier

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