I Prefer The Spelling Pewk
Or: Pukes and Wolverines and the War Over Toledo
Puke: Etymology: 1600, probably of imitative origin (cf. German spucken to spit, Latin spuere); first recorded in the Seven Ages of Man speech in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
— As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7
U.S. colloquial meaning native of Missouri (1835) might be a different word, of unknown origin.
Bartlett (1859) has: A nickname for a native of Missouri as the second sense of puke (n.), the first being: A mean, contemptible fellow. The association of the state nickname with the vomit word is at least from 1858, and folk etymology talks of the old state literally vomiting forth immigrants to California. A Biblical syntax.
That the land not vomit you out when you defile it as it vomited out the nation before you. –Lev.18:28
I was not born here but I live in the puke. I’m a puke. I was a Wolverine. Once a Wolverine I suppose always a Wolverine.
But a puke — not a proud moniker however construed.
I don’t know what a Wolverine is. Hold on I’m calling the New York Public Library where librarians still answer the phone in the Reference Room.
She asked first if I was asking about the comic book character, Wolverine. No I said, the animal, a person born in Michigan. Ah, she said, I went to the University of Michigan so I guess I’m a Wolverine though I was not born in the State.
I went to the University of Michigan also! I said with too much Excitement, and I was BORN in Michigan so I am certainly a Wolverine. What the hell is it?
Hold on, she said, don’t go away. We can get at this chick chock.
Back. Wolverines in the wild haven’t been sighted in Michigan since the early 1800s she said. Until recently. Ohio-ans started calling people from Michigan wolverines around the time of the State’s war over Toledo. In 1835. The Ohio-ans thought the people of Michigan were fierce fighters.
Whoa. There was a war over Toledo? Have you ever been to Toledo?
No, she said. Hold again please?
Back. It gets better. There’s a science teacher up in the thumb of Michigan that claimed he spotted the first wolverine in the wild since the early 1800s, that was 2004, tracked it, and he wrote a book about it! There was someone else speaking behind her in the room where she sat on Fifth Avenue in New York City, where the two lions are named Patience and Fortitude.
He’s a Wolverine too, she said, referring to the guy in on the story now in the background, the College connection.
She continued. The teacher’s name is Jeff Ford, the book The Lone Wolverine and he spotted the Wolverine in this kind of bog called the Minden City Swamp. He set up a camera and after 371 days he got a picture of the animal. Wow. It took him over a year to get a picture. He worked so hard at tracking the animal he developed a heart condition but he got the picture and continued to track the animal until it was found dead in 2010. Obsession. The Department of Natural Resources determined the wolverine (a she wolverine by the way) died of natural causes, probably a heart attack.
There’s something deep in this story about obsession and an over-the-divide mysticism between human and animal, I mused. Inwardly.
She told me the wolverine was stuffed and shown around the state. The theory is she came in over a frozen Great Lake from Canada. Jeff Ford never gave her a name.
What was the war over Toledo? I asked.
Hold on, she said. Back. Also called the Michigan-Ohio War, 1835-1836. They were arguing over a strip of land between Michigan and Ohio when Michigan was about to become a State. There was one battle where the two state militias lined up on opposite sides of the Maumee River and somebody fired up into the air, there was a compromise and Michigan ceded the Toledo strip of land to Ohio. Michigan got most of the Upper Peninsula. Michigan thought it was a bad deal until copper and iron were discovered up there.
Wow. Thanks. What a story. I did puppet shows in Toledo I said where I met a coven of witches it scared the hell out of me.
Charming, said the reference librarian. Thank for you calling. Always willing to help and thank you for the introduction to these glorious subjects. Anything else I can do for you?