Have no truck with
Those of you who have persevered with my two hundred etymological searches into idioms and phrases with which we pepper our wonderful English language will know that I have (or perhaps brook) no truck with fanciful or unlikely theories. When we say we have no truck with something, we mean that we no longer have any dealings with or time for something.
These days truck appears with a negative but when it first made its appearance in the Middle Ages it had no negative limiter. Coming from the French word, troque, it was used to describe a form of business transaction which involved the exchange of goods without the transfer of money; in other words, bartering. The Vintner’s Company Charter in the Patent Roll of Edward III, dating to 1364, describes the securing of some wine “by truke, or by exchange.”
By the 17th century, the meaning of truck had broadened from the narrow constraints of trade to a more general sense of having dealings with, associating with or communicating with someone. It appears to have only been conjoined with a negative from the 19th century. The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society noted, in 1834, that “theoretically an officer should have no truck with thieves.” Sage advice, for sure, but the theoretically suggests that this was not always possible.
Henry Cockton in his novel The Steward, published in 1850, suggests that the expression was used by the lower sorts; “Do what yow like, replied aunt Ann. It makes no odds to me; I’ll ha’ nothing to do with him! – I’ll have no truck with a tocksicated man.” The phrase crossed the pond to appear in Mark Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, the True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – “it was just like I thought. He didn’t hold no truck with me” – and aficionados of Sherlock Holmes may recall its use in the Sign of the Four (1890); “But I tell you now that if it is anything against the safety of the fort I will have no truck with it, so you can drive home your knife and welcome.”
Trucking shops were a feature of 19th century life for itinerant workers such as navvies. They were often working in areas away from towns and villages and so their obliging employers set up shops from which they could buy the necessities of life, often exchanging tokens or vouchers supplied by their ever obliging employers. William Cobbett in his Rural Rides, published in 1825, observed that “in the iron country… the truck or tommy system generally prevails.”
Of course, it wasn’t for philanthropic reasons that the trucking system was established. The unscrupulous companies sought to further exploit their impoverished workers by ripping them off with extortionate prices. It was only with the passing of the Truck Act in 1887 that this egregious practice came to an end.
Truck also appears to have been countryside slang for an association, courtship or dalliance with a member of the fairer sex. Notes and Queries commented in 1866 that in Suffolk “a man who has left off courting a girl, says that he has no more truck along o’har.”
And now to brook.
Brook comes from the Old High German word, bruhhan, via the Middle English brouken, and meant to use. When it is used in the context of truck it acts as an intensifier and means to tolerate. So brooking no truck means to have absolutely no association with something.
Glad we’ve cleared that up.