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April 29, 2004

Slang of the Week: truckin’ (noun)
1. Moving or struggling 2. A 1930s dance

Example:
Lester's friends told him to just keep on truckin', but nothing was the same after his pet turtle died.

Celebrity quote:
“It spread like a forest blaze,
Became a craze,
Thanks to Harlem now,
Everybody's truckin'.”
- Songwriters Ted Koehler and Rube Bloom from the 1935 revue Cotton Club Parade

Most people associate truckin’ with The Grateful Dead hit of the 1970s, but the Dead didn’t originate the word, nor were they the ones to popularize it. In the 1930s, truckin’ was a dance craze that originated in Harlem. Many songs were written about it, including the one above, sung most famously by Fats Waller. The dance involved waving an index finger over your head while shuffling and was often combined with other moves similar to swing dancing.

The biggest boost for this word came from underground cartoonist R. Crumb in 1965. In that year, Crumb, whose work was (and still is) beloved by college students and hippies, introduced a character called Mr. Natural. His famous slogan, Keep on truckin’, used the word in the first sense of “keep trying” or “keep moving along .” Mr. Natural was probably Crumb’s most famous invention, rivaled only Fritz the Cat, who got his own animated movie in 1972.

The Grateful Dead were undoubtedly familiar with Crumb’s work. Their hit uses the expression in a similar way, to mean “traveling.” Truckin’, first recorded in 1970, tells the story of a journey around the United States and contains one of the most often repeated catchphrases of that era: “What a long strange trip it’s been.”