Ruthie verbs

The One Big Happy in today’s comics feed:


Ruthie’s taken the predicative idiom in cahoots (with) — Dad is in cahoots with Joe, Dad and Joe are in cahoots — and extracted from it (by back-formation) a noun cahoot, which she then verbs, to get an activity verb cahoot with rather than the stative be in cahoots with.

The short story, from NOAD:

noun cahoots:  (in phrase in cahoots) informal colluding or conspiring together secretly: the area is dominated by guerrillas in cahoots with drug traffickers. ORIGIN early 19th century (originally US): of unknown origin.

A more expansive entry in GDoS supplies a bit more of the syntax, and divides the semantics into main content (partnership) and implicature (secrecy, disrepute):

in cahoots (with) (also cahoots, in cahoot, in cohoot) … (orig. US) in partnership (with), usu. implying a slightly disreputable or surreptitious alliance. [first cite 1829 in cahoot with]

Marvelously, GDoS also has an entry for Ruthie’s backformed verb, locating it mostly in rustic and non-standard American speech:

verb cahoot: (also cohoot) [backform. f. in cahoots (with) …] (US) to act in partnership.
1857 N.Y. Herald 20 May… They all agree to cahoot with their claims against Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
…1886 S.W. Mitchell Roland Blake 261: The women ken cohoot together down at the old house.
1948 Chicago Trib. 1 Aug. [comic strip] 6: Why don’t cha feud fa’r an’ squar’ – with shootin’ arms instead o’ gossip thet he’s cahooting wth speerits?

(The origins of the expression are disputed; there’s a nice survey of the hypotheses and evidence in a Stack Exchange site here.)

The term has been used to name institutions characterized by collaboration or partnership — for instance, a Canadian theater company (headquartered in Toronto) specializing in works by and for the deaf and disabled communities —


and out-of-the-way places where people of like mind can gather  — for instance, a London bar evoking the London Underground of the 1940s:


Finally, the /hut/ in cahoots has suggested the owl-call hoot to a number of people, who have used it for verbal/visual play:


One Response to “Ruthie verbs”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Better still would be Peruvian owls emitting Inca hoots.

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