Dem Bones Dem Bones

In the field of web design, marketing, and PR, it is extremely important that you say what you really mean, clearly, concisely, and so that others will not only understand, but understand what you WANT them to understand.

Tombstone is one of my favorite movies, and a favorite of many people across the world.  Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday was arguably the best character and some would even say he made the movie.  I would be one of them.

But I fear his most recognized line in the movie is also his most misunderstood.

When the movie is brought up in conversation, it is inevitable that someone is going to say “I’m your huckleberry.”

Now admit it.  Unless you are aware of the explanation I am about to give of the true line and meaning, the first time you heard it, you didn’t quite get it right?  It left you with a feeling of “huh?  Oh, he must mean he’s the man for the job, so ‘huckleberry’ must be slang for that.”  You just inserted your own opinion and explanation for something you didn’t quite understand.

If you did this don’t feel bad.  It is a common human trait that goes back before recorded time.  In my opinion and from my observation, man hates to be left with something unexplained.  And in the abscense of facts, he will invent some.  This is a very useful and very dangerous trait at the same time.  But that is another discussion.

Knowing that it exists is enough for this discussion.  People heard “huckleberry”, couldn’t fit it into reference, so made up their own reference.  Heck, some people even posted it in forums and blogs to try and make it a fact by publication.  Another subject I know, but publication does not always mean fact.  Observe The Enquirer.

The truth, as odd as it may seem, deals in bones, wagons, and funerals.  Huh?


A ‘huckle’ is a term that has its roots in England around the early to mid 1500’s.  It is simply the hip bone which the remaining bones connect to.  Through time it became the term for bones in general and made it’s way slowly to the southeastern US in the 1700’s and 1800’s.

Incidentally, it was also the term for part of the wagon that attaches the harness and horses.  A connecting ‘wagon bone’ if you will.

But back to the term and Doc’s use of it.

You see, when we have a funeral today, we call the men who carry the casket ‘pallbearers’.

In the Southeast US back then when people carried the casket containing the body, which contained the bones, or huckles, those men were called ‘hucklebearers’.  Not huckleberry’s.

tombstone_Val KilmerWhat Doc was saying in the movie was “I’m your hucklebearer”.  Now, picture who he said that to in which situation.  Makes a lot more sense doesn’t it?

In essence what he was saying to Johnny Ringo was, “I’ll bury you.”

But, thousands of people still believe he said ‘huckleberry’, all from a simple split second misunderstanding.

So, when you are marketing, make sure your message is clear.  Otherwise, you never know what people may think!

Of course, one of my favorite lines is “Why Johnny Ringo.  You look somebody just walked over your grave.”

by Michael Graves