would you buy a toboggan in a poke?

A guy came into the store this morning and asked, "yall don't sell toboggans, do ya?". He was dressed all in camo so I figured he was going out bowhunting; a lot of hunters stop in for drinks, snacks and chewing tobacco on their way into the woods.

The brief blank look on my face must have been something to see; to me, a toboggan is a deadly snow sled.

Years ago Lisa taught me the alternate, head-warming definition for a word that makes me think of broken backs and body casts rather than comfort.

It took me a fraction of a second to decide whether my customer was looking for a sled or a hat. They call a heavy knit winter hat a "toboggan" 'round here. And no, we don't sell toboggans of any description. Maybe when the winter really hits, but it'll just be hats.

As far as I know, they don't have any odd words for gloves.

("Nope, sorry, no toboggans. It ain't snowin' anyway, dude, not even on the mountain peaks!")

The only word I've heard here and nowhere else (but of course I knew what it meant already) is "poke". One particular customer will occasional ask for a "poke" for his purchases. A poke is of course a bag, and I had no problem connecting with that immediately.

But when they say toboggan around here (even when Lisa says it), I can't help picturing a long, unsteerable wooden death sled on their heads.


  1. "Poke" is an old Scots word, particularly in west central Scotland (i.e. around Glasgow) meaning a bag, particularly of 'sweeties' (what you would call 'candy' I think) or chips (what you would call 'french fries'); what we call 'crisps' is what you call 'chips' - confusing, eh ;)

    Incidentally a 'pokey hat' is a Scots term for an ice-cream cone (a scoop, or two, of ice-cream served in an edible cone-shaped biscuit base, like an inverted hat).

    I think there are probably quite a lot of people, if you go back far enough, in 'the Carolinas' who are of Scottish background so the linguistic traces are probably a function of that.

  2. You are right on the money, so to speak, Bill, regarding the Scots in the Appalachians. They were, along with some Germans, the original white settlers here.

    My wife is a proud Stewart. Some of the family names that have been here since the white man first settled in this area include Inman, Warren, Henson, Reece, Deaver and Blaylock. At least a few of those surnames are probably from the Scottish and Scots-Irish diaspora.

    And the title of my post was a play on "buying a pig in a poke," which means to buy something sight unseen (for example, if it were hidden in a burlap bag/poke and you couldn't examine it before making the purchase).

  3. Interesting.

    Here the 'pig in a poke' expression implies not merely buying something 'sight unseen', but that it is almost certainly of low quality and not worth the [monetary] value paid for it. In law this is the doctrine of caveat emptor ('Let the buyer beware').

  4. I was familiar with the term "poke" for a bag, but the "tobaggon" thing was new to me until I moved the Raleigh in the 80s. I tried to explain to the natives about the unsteerable sled and they just thought I was making it up. I still think calling a knit hat a tobaggon is just weird, but it probably came from it being proper headgear for riding the real thing.