Q: I was fortunate to have seen Andy Williams several times in Branson, Mo. I was saddened to hear of his passing. My favorite song is “Moon River.” I was listening to some of the words:
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after the same rainbow’s end,
Waitin’ ‘round the bend
My huckleberry friend, Moon River and me.
I have to ask: What is a huckleberry friend? — J.S., Mount Penn, Pa.
A: I am asked this question every few years. Since the passing of Andy Williams on Sept. 25, I have received many emails and letters with the same question.
First, let me tell you the huckleberry story. When early American colonists encountered a native berry, they mistook it for the European berry known as the “hurtleberry.” The name stuck, but the pronunciation changed over time to huckleberry. By the mid- to late- 1800s, huckleberry became slang for “an all-around nice person.” Now, to confuse things a bit, huckleberry could also mean “a small amount or distance” or an “insignificant thing or person.” This meaning led to another popular phrase at the time, to bet a huckleberry to a persimmon, meaning a very small bet. The lowly huckleberry was also used in a phrase indicating something or someone special, as in “the only huckleberry on the bush,” which I’m sure led to the phrase “huckleberry friend,” meaning someone very unique or special.
(Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at AskMrKIA@gmail.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)