In the version of "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" available on gutenberg.org here, this appears:

"she told him at last that if he didn't quit using around there"

Is the use of the word "using" here a mistake, or was that the actual original word used there?

If the latter, what does it mean? Is it an archaic term for "messing about" or rural Missouri slang for something else, or what?

  • 1
    It looks like she uses "using" to mean "drinking" -- this is Huck Finn's father being discussed, and he was a no-good drunk most of the time.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 1:54
  • Whether there is a mistake in the online version of the book is something that can be easily ascertained by consulting a printed copy. Just about every library in the English-speaking world has it.
    – jsw29
    Commented Dec 22, 2018 at 17:11
  • 1
    @jsw29: True, but is this forum the source of last resort? Commented Dec 23, 2018 at 14:18

2 Answers 2


Apparently it's still a common term, and I am also surprised that it was used at that time.

It's perfectly in context since it refers to "pap", the (ab)user of alcohol.

"Every time he got money he got drunk; and every time he got drunk he raised Cain around town; and every time he raised Cain he got jailed. He was just suited — this kind of thing was right in his line.

He got to hanging around the widow’s too much and so she told him at last that if he didn’t quit using around there she would make trouble for him. Well, wasn't he mad?"


I've recently come across this phrase in "The old gods waken" by Manly Wade Wellman, another keen observer of southern rural slang and dialect:

It doesn't mean only the ghosts of dead folk a-using around to get into mischief ...


They've been a-using round Wolter Mounting long enough.

(1979 Doubleday edition, pp. 135 + 58)

As there is no alcohol or drug abuse in this context, I understand the phrase to be some synonym for "loitering around".

Edit: Here's another example I'vefound on this site http://www.wvculture.org/history/journal_wvh/wvh30-2.html about Appalachian dialect:

"I've been a-studying about how to say this, till I've nigh wearried myself to death. I reckon hit don't never do nobody no good to beat about the bush, so I'll just tell ye. Your man's hippoed. There's nothing ails him, but he spends more time using around the doctor's office than he does a-working."

sadly, it's without reference or further explanation of this specific phrase

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