Druthers. I love the word**
Last week, a group of us met with a young lady, Eleonora, from Rome, to have her guide us in speaking better Italian. It was a marvelous session, as most anything in the Italian language seems to be. At one point, our chat revolved around the use of Italian idioms which, along with the verbs, are a difficult part of the language. Nonetheless, we need to be familiar with them to reach that next level.
Eleonora was quick to say that she was having the same problems with English idioms … “a dime a dozen, bite the bullet and better late than never,” to name a few. No surprise. For some reason, I thought of the word druthers; one I learned years ago when reading Al Capp’s L’il Abner. “I’m sure you have not heard anything like the word druthers.”
“Druthers?” she asked with her enviable Roman inflection. “Whatt do you mean?” I love the way she finished the word “whatt”; distinctively European.
I told her of a scene in the musical, L’il Abner when a group of Dogpatch people sat around to sing “If I Had My Druthers.” Though he may have popularized it, cartoonist Al Capp did not coin the term. The earliest reference is from 1833. Etymologist Barry Popick tracked down this quote in an issue of American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine: “I’d druther live in the woods anytime by myself than on the best plantation in the country.”
In Mark Twain’s 1896 novel Tom Sawyer, Detective, Huck Finn says to Tom, “Any way you’d druther have it, that is the way I’d druther have it.” When Tom responds, he uses druther as a noun. “There ain’t any druthers about it Huck Finn. Nobody said anything about druthers.”
Druther is a modification of “would rather”, as in I would rather or I’d rather. The example of shifting a sound from one component phrase to another is called metanalysis. Druthers is just a term that simply reflects an informality of tone, not a lack of sophistication or education. If you saw the musical or read the comic strip, you might think otherwise.
So I told Eleonora about L’il Abner and proceeded with a less formal explanation. “I would rather” contracts to I’d druther.
“I still do nott understand.” Again, that envious lilt and the pronunciation of the end of the word nott.
“OK. If you say ‘would rather’ quickly enough, you might understand how these two words blur together as d’rather and then to druther. When someone says <if I had my druthers>, they’re talking about what they would do if they had a choice. When you are asked what you would like to do, you might say <I’d rather do>. That’s a druther.”
If we students of Italian had our druthers, we would spend more time in learning the language and the lilt, flexing our dialectal muscles with pride and pronouncing the endd of every wordd.
Articulation with an Italian lilt. Nothing I’d druther do.
** Published in yesterday’s GoLocalProv