So I’ve recently had a conversation about the phrase “I’m your huckleberry” in the connotation that means “I’m your man” or “I’m the right man for the job.” Somehow, the conversation ended up on the movie “Tombstone” starring Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday and whether or not he says huckleberry or is it I’m your huckle bearer.
The discussion, took a turn for whether the Doc Holiday character, who is from the gentile south (Georgia, Kentucky that area) says “I’m your huckleberry” or “I’m your huckle bearer.” Apparently, the script says “huckleberry” and that’s the biggest argument in favor of “huckleberry” over “huckle bearer.”
I started searching online and came across a site where a person claimed to have an autographed picture, signed by Val Kilmer himself, and the caption says “I’m your huckleberry.” Not to mention the official shirts and other merchandise with that phrase on it. You’d think that would put an end to the argument, but not quite.
I’d be satisfied with the term “huckleberry” meaning “I’m your man” or “I’m the right man for the job” except for one thing.
That thing, is that a “huckle bearer” is what we nowadays call a pallbearer.
The handles that coffins had in those days were called “huckles.” So, the connotation “I’m the guy that’s going to bury you,” would be appropriate to say to someone that you are about to have a gun fight with, don’t you think?
Listen to these 2 clips from the movie, and tell me if you hear “huckleberry” or “huckle bearer”
And then this one from later on in the movie:
In the Holiday/Kilmer southern accent, I think it can go either way.
Over on the phrase finder website, I found this explanation:
In the old Georgia (where Doc Holiday originated) the men who would bear (carry) your coffin in a funeral procession wore small huckleberry branches in their lapels. They became know as the “Huckle Bearers”. When Doc says “I’m your huckleberry” he means that he is your coffin bearer….. or more to the point… he will be the one to PUT you in your coffin.
I don’t buy the thing about the branches, but I’m willing to concede the point that people that carried coffins were huckle bearers.
It seems appropriate to me that Holiday would respond to Ringo’s challenge with a phrase that would imply that he’s about to bury Ringo. Although it would be just as appropriate for Holiday to reply that he’s the right man for Ringo to face off with.
Where do I stand?
I’m going to have to side with the script.
If the script says “huckleberry,” then huckleberry it is. Although I have my doubts about what I hear Holiday/Kilmer say, I’m going to have to side with the script writers and at least say that they meant for him to say “huckleberry,” regardless of what Holiday/Kilmer actually says.
There’s a thread over on the high road that takes the whole bearear/berry thing to another level altogether. Member Red Tornado says:
“Huckleberry” was commonly used in the 1800’s in conjunction with “persimmon” as a small unit of measure. “I’m a huckleberry over your persimmon” meant “I’m just a bit better than you.” As a result, “huckleberry” came to denote idiomatically two things. First, it denoted a small unit of measure, a “tad,” as it were, and a person who was a huckleberry could be a small, unimportant person–usually expressed ironically in mock self-depreciation. The second and more common usage came to mean, in the words of the “Dictionary of American Slang: Second Supplemented Edition” (Crowell, 1975):
“A man; specif., the exact kind of man needed for a particular purpose. 1936: “Well, I’m your huckleberry, Mr. Haney.” Tully, “Bruiser,” 37. Since 1880, archaic.
The “Historical Dictionary of American Slang” which is a multivolume work, has about a third of a column of citations documenting this meaning all through the latter 19th century.
So “I’m your huckleberry” means “I’m just the man you’re looking for!”
Now ain’t that a daisy!
The “Daisy” comment is easier. In the late 19th century “daisy” was a common slang term for “the best in it’s class.” So for “daisy” just substitute “the best” and you’ll have it. It was a short-lived idiom and doesn’t seem to be popular much after 1890.
Sooooo, if Holiday said “huckleberry” it could’ve meant “I’m better than you” which would be fighting words in just about any situation, specially one involving guns.
Something else that’s really interesting to me, is the word “daisy.” At the end of the second scene, Holiday says to Ringo “you’re no daisy.”
Check out what I found over on gnovies about what that meant.
As far as being a “daisy” when Doc said “You’re no Daisy, you’re no Daisy at’all”. I think he meant, “You’re not the big deal you thought you were, I beat you”. A Daisy was a flower that was used a lot because it was sturdy and lasted long in a vase and a person who was a Daisy would be “steadfast” or “sure” or would have been a “done deal” as the expression in the South was used.
At first, I thought that he was saying something about how Ringo is going to be “pushing up daisies” meaning that he’s dead, but that didn’t quite make sense given the scene. I also considered the modern connotation of the word meaning someone that’s a sissy, but that didn’t make sense either.
Since Ringo still tried to fight, even after being shot in the head, I think Holiday is making a comment about Ringo’s toughness. I could be wrong though.
Certainly gives a new meaning to the term “flowery language” doesn’t it?
I love westerns.
Added 04-12-2011: I watched the movie a couple more times, and determined that Kilmer says “huckleberry” but with his accent it sounds close to “huckle berruh.”