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Grant Barrett said
A truck driver in Tucson, Arizona, has a dispute with her boyfriend: If you toss something out, do you chuck it or chunk it?
You chuck it, of course. “How much wood can a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”.
But I pause, just a little less certain than a moment ago. I’m thinking of something I read in We Took to the Woods, by Louise Rich. This really wonderful book was written by a woman, raised in Chicago I think, who met a man who’d just bought a cabin far back in the Maine woods, fell in love with him, married him and took up living far back in the Maine woods herself. This was back between the Wars. They had perhaps a dozen neighbors all told, if you count as “neighbors” just the people who lived year ’round (not counting the summer sports) within five miles, up and down the river somewhere. The nearest town was several lakes away.
The book answers the sort of questions people ask her, one chapter to each question. “But surely you don’t live here the whole year round?!” is dedicated to winter time in the Maine woods. “Aren’t you afraid?” talks about the various dangers they may encounter. “I should think you’d get awfully out of touch” talks about the entertainments they have, and how they keep from getting bored. And so on.
But the point here is that at that time and place, the locals referred to pieces of wood cut for their winter fires as “chunks”, only they pronounced them “junks”. And it occurs to me to wonder whether either this Arizona truck driver or her boyfriend was a transplanted Down-Easter. If so, maybe I was too quick with my confident answer.
(Anyone else ever read it?)
I haven’t read the book, but “chuck it” sounds correct to me, having heard that exclusively over the years. I started hearing “chunk it” only recently. Yet I too have to pause after seeing how “junk” and “chunk” could easily be related/confused, as well as “chunk” and “chuck”. In my mind, though, “chuck” has always meant “to throw” in a more general sense rather than specifically to junk/trash, i.e., “Chuck that stuff (chuck it) over the fence,” or “He chucked the football forty yards downfield.” Probably neither is correct to the exclusion of the other, similar to the way “champing at the bit” and “chomping at the bit” have become interchangeable.
I was going to say that in my experience “chuck” usually means to “throw out“, ie to discard. “What do I do with this?” “Just chuck it.” But on second thought, other “throw” verbs mean “discard”, too. “Just toss it.” I guess it’s not “chuck” specifically that can mean “discard”, but any throwing verb in the right context.
It may be because we, in Texas, speak a different language but I frequently hear “chunk” to mean throwing something. It can mean discarding an item or simply tossing it. It is synonymous with “chuck” which is also used here but less frequently.
I did some Google research and found several dictionaries that confirm this. You can look at Wiktionary or you can Google “chunk definition verb to throw” and get some others. This is, without doubt, a secondary definition but it is a real definition.