The other day I found myself embroiled in an argument that only seems to occur this time of year: Are they called potholes or chuckholes?
(We shall set aside, for the moment, the example of this wintertime road hazard that has taken up residence near my house, the one we affectionately call The Grand Canyon, Destroyer Of Automobile Suspensions, Deflater Of Tires, Bender Of Rims And Rattler Of Dental Work.)
Being native to Indiana, I have never known these things as anything but chuckholes. The other person in the argument never heard this term used before moving here from Cincinnati, and refers to them only as potholes. This raises a question:
How can the people of Cincinnati, which is so close to the border with Indiana and therefore subject to our (ahem) outsized cultural influence, get it so wrong?
Of course, people who call these things potholes invariably want to know why we Indianionians call them chuckholes in the first place. The answer is lost to history, but I have a few ideas.
First, we have to take into account the old woodchuck-hole theory. I like this one a lot, seeing as how I have first-hand familiarity with woodchuck holes. I stepped in one when I was a kid. The woodchuck was still inside, too. Mean little dude. Of course, you would be too, if some kid’s size 9 just landed on your head.
However, the word chuckhole doesn’t cover the fact that woodchucks are also known as groundhogs and whistle pigs. You don’t hear anyone complaining about the pig holes.
A theory I came up with on my own is that chuckhole goes back to the days of open-topped carriages, both horse-drawn and horseless, and that people whose conveyance slammed into one of the aforementioned holes were chucked, you-know-what over teakettle, to the side of the road.
Maybe it’s a mispronunciation of the word “chock,” as in “That there hole in the road is just chock-full of busted car parts.”
Maybe it’s supposed to be chunkhole, because there’s a huge chunk of pavement missing.
Or maybe there was this guy named Chuck who nobody liked.
Of course, these holes in the road, chuck-, pot- and sink-, go by other names as well. However, most of them can’t be printed here. My new favorite, however, is perfectly suitable for public discussion. A friend of mine has taken to calling them “Basements Without Houses.”
Whatever you call them (they’re chuckholes) one thing we can agree on, I trust, is that we seem to have a bumper crop this year, and some of them are big enough to qualify for their own area codes. I refer you again to the moon crater near my house, which only last night swallowed a Honda Civic two-car lengths ahead of me. The last anyone saw of it, there was a flash of brake lights and then WHOOMP! It was gone. Gone, I tell you.
And that, really, is what matters. What you call these holes in the pavement is up to you. We may call them chuckholes, but we know what you misplaced Cincinnatianiacs mean when you use other words. And that includes the words you use after you hit one.