Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Tuckered Out

Posted by Elyse Bruce on May 2, 2011

There was American New York Metropolitan Opera Tenor Richard Tucker (1914 – 1975) and there was Russian-born American vaudeville entertainer Sophie Tucker (1884 – 1966) but neither of them is responsible for the expression “tuckered out.”  The expression means to the individual is completely exhausted and worn out.  So where did this expression come from in the first place and how long has it been in use?

Back on April 12, 1962, The Telegraph newspaper in Nashua, New Hampshire ran an Associated Press story entitled “Weekend Food News” that started with this:

The household gardener, tuckered out from raking, pruning and planting this weekend, will welcome a hearty meal, and the nation’s supermarkets are cooperating with a good variety of main course specials.

When the Evening Independent newspaper of St. Petersburg, Florida ran its story “News Behind The News: The National Whirligig” by George Durno on April 12, 1934, subscribers read:

That’s why a lot of the boys prefer to believe the story that President Roosevelt left Washington on March 27 for the Nourmahal cruise so tuckered out from the grind that it was five days before he began to feel himself.  They insist the week’s extension of the cruise was made only to give Mr. Roosevelt a whack at a brief respite from office while he really felt in the mood.

On December 1, 1903 the New York Times ran an article entitled “Gleeful Freshmen Dine: Frustrated Sophomores’ Efforts to Prevent Their Banquet.”  It’s amazing to see that college students don’t change from generation to generation as shown in the first paragraph of the news article:

Columbia College freshmen fought a fight with their traditional enemies, the sophomores, yesterday. Night found them banqueting at the Ansonia depleted in number, but proud and flushed with victory. Up near the college ten of their men still lingered in a dungeon deep, but a hundred of them scratched and tuckered out, but creditable classmen, sat at the banquet board, indifferent to the sophomores who in the street were hooting and yelling in impotent wrath.

The Providence Press provided a colourful description of one account of life in Colorado on January 29, 1875 in an article entitled, “Cold In Colorado: A Graphic Account Of It and One To Be Taken Cautiously.”  It read in part:

But all but one feller got tixed up and did pretty well. Scarred Pete and Long Jim was perty well tuckered out though.  You see when she got warm, we began to sort o’thaw out, and the jabs and cuts we got that night began to tell on us, and the bigger the cut the more we bled.  Now, stranger, that was only one of the effects of that little cold snap, t’wastn’t nothin’ to what happened afterward!

The New York Times published a news article entitled “How To Visit New York and See The Crystal Palace” on July 12, 1853.  It included this tidbit of information:

If at any time there seems to be a lack of bodily or mental energy, take advice from Nature, and let Sleep, the good old nurse, compose you to rest.  She will pour out a balm for your refreshment, that will seem to take a year’s burdens from your back.  Give her an extra hour, or more if so disposed, and she will bring out the jaded spirit from the nursery, as young and spruce and benignant as a bridegroom from his barber’s.  When tuckered out, let a traveler go to bed, whether it is dark or daylight, bedtime or the time to eat, and there lie until he has squared all accounts with Master Somnus, and every muscle is hungry for action.

And in 1845, author Caroline Matilda Kirkland (1801 – 1864) wrote a book entitled, “Western Clearings” in which the following passage can be found:

“How are you this morning, Mrs. Ashburn?” asked the young visitant as she entered the wretched den, her little basket on her arm, her sweet face all flushed, and her eyes more than half-suffused with tears — the effect of the keen morning wind, we suppose.

“Law sakes alive!” was the reply, “I ain’t no how. I’m clear tuckered out with these young’ uns. They’ve had the agur already this morning, and they’re as cross as bear-cubs.”

“Ma!” screamed one, as if in confirmation of the maternal remark, “I want some tea!”

“Tea! I ha’n’t got no tea, and you know that well enough!”

“Well, give me a piece o’ sweetcake then, and a pickle.”

The expression according to Webster’s Dictionary is New England slang of uncertain origin that means ‘to tire‘ or ‘to become weary‘ and appears as early as 1820.  Although Idiomation was unable to find any earlier published references to the expression, that  it appears in a book published in 1845 certainly supports the claim that the expression “tuckered out” was used as early as 1820.

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One Response to “Tuckered Out”

  1. D.C. said

    Wow. I would not have guessed this be used at all in New England. It sounded so southern to me.

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