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According to the Oxford dictionary online (ODO), "heaps" is an adverb meaning a great deal.

But in Gone with the Wind, there is this sentence, containing "heap," most likely meaning the same thing as "heaps":

I'd heap rather go to a war than go to Europe.

Is "heaps" the same as "heap," as is most likely the case; and if so, how can the variation be explained between "heaps" and "heap"?

Try this link for the Google book source if the other one doesn't work.

  • 1
    A lot of the southern speech in Gone with Wind is just that, gone with the wind! It's no longer heard, even in the South. The word heap is still used but not in this configuration: I'd heap rather....I suspect that even when the script was written, this was something invented by the writer rather than a set form. You might consider telling who the speaker is.... – Lambie Jun 5 '17 at 16:23
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Heap as an adverb for "very", "a lot", or "very much" is a pidgin English word that used to be common in depictions of the speech of American Indians (native Americans). Here are a few quotations from the OED:

1867: "Disturb the game and you make the Indian 'heap big mad'."

1872: "'Heap' is 'Injun-English' for 'very much'."

1902: "Billy explained..'she heap much hungry'."

1958: "President Coolidge posed later in the regalia of a heap-big chief."

I'm not sure how much real native Americans used the word "heap" in that sense, but it was certainly common when white people were pretending to talk like native Americans. That is, it's intentionally incorrect, nonstandard English: an easy way to "sound like an Indian".

Of course, once that usage is established, people can use it playfully or informally for all sorts of reasons, which may explain its appearance in that line in Gone with the Wind. The last quotation above is by humorist Bennett Cerf, using the word playfully to say that President Coolidge was dressed as an Indian chief.

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The relevant meaning in the OED is 4c, according to which either the singular or plural form may be used:

absol. and as adv. A great deal, much; a ‘lot’. (sing. and pl.) colloq.

In other words, the speaker is just saying he'd much rather go to war than Europe.

The quote is from dialogue, where the participants would be expected to speak in natural, colloquial terms. Just before this line, Tarleton says

They can have 'em. Give me a good horse to ride and some good licker to drink and a good girl to court and a bad girl to have fun with and anybody can have their Europe.

which would demonstrate a casual tone to the conversation. The following entries on the American Indian use of heap (which I had always taken to be a Hollywood stereotype, but appears to have legitimate usage attested) and heap sight are also related.

[As Edwin Ashworth points out, you're not actually looking at the OED, but the Oxford Living Dictionaries, which are also published by Oxford but are a different product.]

  • But OP was mistaken in citing OED. – Edwin Ashworth Jun 5 '17 at 16:14
  • @EdwinAshworth Ah, good catch. – choster Jun 5 '17 at 16:14
  • I'm pretty familiar with southern speech and I have never ever seen heap used in that position. Usually, it's: heaps of trouble, heaps of debts and is not used as an adverb: I'd heap rather is pretty unusual. Maybe just made up by the author. – Lambie Jun 5 '17 at 16:25
  • @BillJ The last example is You will find some one somewhere you think heaps better than me which looks like exactly the same usage to me. – choster Jun 5 '17 at 16:30
  • Yes, I just spotted that one too. So we have an adverb "heap" with an alternant form "heaps" -- as well as the noun "heaps". – BillJ Jun 5 '17 at 16:39

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