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shameless pleading





Darned tootin’

I’ll stick with “Gosharootie,” myself.

Dear Word Detective:  I’ve been hearing the phrase “darned tootin'” quite a lot lately and while I can figure out the “darned” (or is it maybe “durned” and that’s why I couldn’t find it), the “tooting” seems a mystery.  Could it be related to the tooting of one’s own horn?  This seems like something we all need to know in today’s political climate. — Judy Milgram.

You betcha.  And I’m on it like mascara on a mongoose, or something.  But first, a public service announcement:  Dan Rather, come back.  All is forgiven.  You may remember that Mr. Rather caught some flak (and a few million blank stares) for his folksy locutions while narrating the 2000 US presidential election for CBS News.  Such “Ratherisms” as “This race is tight like a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach”  and “If a frog had side pockets, he’d carry a hand gun” gave viewers an unusual insight into both the election and Danno’s psyche.  My personal favorite, which I still don’t understand after eight restful years of contemplation, was “You would sooner find a tall talking broccoli stick to offer to mow your lawn for free.”  The dude must have had a seriously weird childhood.

But now it’s 2008, and one of the major party candidates sometimes seems to be channeling Walter Brennan from the old “Real McCoys” TV series, perhaps with a dash of Ma Kettle thrown in.  Governor Palin’s speeches are peppered with “You betcha” and “Doggone it” and, yes , “Darn tootin.”  I haven’t herd “Dagnabbit” or “Tarnation” yet, but I have no doubt they’re comin’ down the pike.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these expressions, of course, and, while they’d sound phony coming from a New Yorker, there’s nothing affected about her use of them.  Governor Palin speaks with a strong Northern Minnesota accent (her family is originally from Idaho), and those expressions are common to that area as well as much of the central US.  Interestingly, many such expressions started out as euphemisms, a way to avoid blasphemy and still let off steam (“Doggone it,” for instance, is a mangled form of “God damn it”).

In the case of “darn tootin,” one half of the phrase, “darn,” is a common euphemism for “damn.”  The “tootin” (short for “tooting”) is a form of “to toot,” which, since the 16th century, has meant “to sound or blow a horn or similar instrument.” “Toot” is echoic in origin, meaning that the word was formed in imitation of the actual sound of a “toot.”

Since the early 16th century, “toot” has also meant “to call or proclaim loudly,” which brings us back to “darn tootin.”  “Darn tootin” been used in the US at least since the 1930s (and probably much earlier) as an “emphatic affirmative,” a way to strongly agree with what has been said (much like “you’re darn right”).  So “darn tootin” means “I agree very strongly with what you’re tooting” or  “You’re telling it like it is.”  It can also be used to forcefully emphasize a point  for rhetorical effect, as in “You’re darn tootin we’re gonna grind up those polar bears for husky food.”

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