An Olympic Snowboarder Said "Huck It," and the BBC Freaked Out

A Blog About the Olympic Games
Feb. 9 2014 2:17 PM

An Olympic Snowboarder Said "Huck It," and the BBC Freaked Out

Billy Morgan
British snowboarder Billy Morgan, having just hucked it.

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images

On Saturday, the British snowboarder Billy Morgan finished in a disappointing 10th place in the men's slopestyle final. Explaining the outcome to the BBC, Morgan said, "I knew that maybe if I landed my run it'd put me up there on the podium, so I just thought, I'll just huck it." But that's not what the BBC heard.

The interview was cut short, and BBC presenter Hazel Irvine apologized to viewers for the offensive language. Clearly, an overanxious producer thought that Morgan had said "fuck it" instead of "huck it."

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The folks at the Beeb would have been well advised to brush up on their snowboarding lingo to avoid this kind of misunderstanding. As every snowboarder knows, when Morgan said he figured he would "just huck it," he meant that he decided to go all out with a big jump, throwing his body wildly down the hill. Those familiar with the expression were amused with the BBC's overreaction. Andrew Duthie of the UK snowboard magazine White Lines was live-blogging the event and dubbed it "huck-gate" after noticing that Morgan's interview was cut from the BBC feed. "Pretty sure there'll be a communication going around the rest of Team GB right now, telling them not to say 'huck' just in case," Duthie wrote. "Also likely to be blacklisted—suck, buck, tuck, and luck."

Meanwhile, on Twitter, "adamthebarman" offered this bit of doggerel:

He said Huck it,
Not F*ck it,
& now u look like a Muppet,
It wasn't derogatory,
Just terminology,
now u owe an apology
#bbcsochi

Why do snowboarders say "huck it" in the first place? The origins are a little murky, but huck has been developing as a verb for at least 25 years in a number of outdoor sports, as a way of talking about hurling an object or one's own body with great force. When the slang lexicographer Grant Barrett looked into the word's history for his Double-Tongued Dictionary site, he traced it back to a 1989 article in the Washington Post about Ultimate Frisbee:

"You're a god!" It's got to be the most thrilling cheer anyone could expect to hear from teammates, even in "Ultimate Frisbee," where cheers are as creative as defensive plays, and oral support flows steadily from the sidelines. It means you've just "hucked" (thrown long) to the perfect spot, or reached to pluck a Frisbee out of the air, or gone flying horizontal to bat the disk away from an opponent.

Whereas an Ultimate player might huck a disc, other athletic pursuits such as skateboarding, snowboarding, and mountain biking involve making one's body go airborne, often with little regard for the consequences. By the mid-'90s, huck could be used in these sports as either a transitive or intransitive verb. In the 1995 book Boarderlands: The Snowboarder's Guide to the West Coast, Jim Humes and Sean Wagstaff defined huck as "to fling yourself into the air." Around the same time, ski resorts started holding stunt-filled "big air" competitions under the name "Huckfest," and that term soon came to mean "a gathering of snowboarders riding as hard and wildly as possible," in the words of John Fry, author of The Story of Modern Skiing.

Barrett suggests that huck is related to chuck, meaning "to throw with a short arm motion," and that undoubtedly makes sense in an Ultimate Frisbee context, if not in skateboarding or snowboarding. (He also notes that the Oxford English Dictionary has a 1709 citation for hawk meaning "to let fly," but that's probably unrelated.) The American Heritage Dictionary, which as far as I know is the only major dictionary that has thus far recognized the term, gives a couple of other possibly related words: hike ("to pull or raise with a sudden motion") and hoick ("to lift or pull abruptly").

As snowboarders like Morgan have taken to saying "just huck it," it's worth considering how huck has also come to resemble—and stand in for—the rhyming word that the BBC so feared. "Huck it" does sound a lot like "fuck it," even though "huck it" is, according to one Urban Dictionary contributor, "a strengthening of resolve, as opposed to 'fuck it' which is a form of giving up." But saying "huck it" is its own form of surrender: a surrender of one's fear in the face of danger. We find "huck it" working as a macho, reckless interjection in skateboarding, too—most notably as the title refrain in a song by The Offspring used for a 2000 skateboard-themed video album, also called "Huck It." (Sample lyrics: "Huck it! / It's like you gotta try risky shit, by that time / You can't hold back, just lay it on the line / Huck it!")

In a 2011 blog post, Stanford linguist Arnold Zwicky mused on the suggestive huck/fuck connection. The similarity between the two words was so overwhelming that Zwicky initially assumed that huck was simply "a euphemistic replacement for fuck," and websites like "Go Huck Yourself" certainly support that interpretation. But in a follow-up post, he concluded that "huck might have had an independent origin and was later recruited for use as a euphemism."

Based on the historical evidence, I think that conclusion is correct. And given the amount of intentional wordplay hinging on the resemblance of huck to fuck, we can perhaps forgive the BBC for thinking they heard an F-bomb when it was only an H-bomb.

Ben Zimmer is executive producer for Vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus, and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal.