“Chokka”

My neighbor Mike Eiseman, about to embark on a trip to England, told me he was studying up on the native lingo, and mentioned a couple of words he had learned, one being “chockablock.”

I wasn’t aware of this as a Britishism, but I’m not aware of a lot of things, and I dutifully looked it up. The OED’s definition said it was originally used as a nautical term: “said of a tackle with the two blocks run close together so that they touch each other—the limit of hoisting; transf. jammed or crammed close together; also of a place or person, crammed with, chock-full of.”

The first citation in the OED was from an American, Richard Henry Dana, in  Two Years before Mast: “Hauling the reef-tackles chock-a-block.” The second, ten years hence, was from another Yankee seaman, Herman Melville.

But Mike was on to something, as I learned from another neighbor, Nanette Tobin. Nanette works for an international corporation, alongside a number of British people, and she often tells me about their expressions. (We are still waiting for the appearance of “leaving do”–“going-away party,” in AmE–on these shores.) I forget how it came up, but she happened to mention that her coworkers frequently talk of being “chokka,” i.e., busy. I just searched for it, and this came up on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-11-30 at 2.52.14 PM

I have never encountered “chokka” in the United States (it has never appeared in the New York Times), and expect to roughly the same time as “leaving do.”

Update: Some of the comments inspired me to look for alternate spellings of “chokka,” and indeed there are several. The OED lists “chocker” as the main form, in this entry:

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 9.41.52 AM

Interestingly, the OED doesn’t list the “super-busy” meaning or, indeed, the “chokka” spelling. Wait till the next edition.

Update to the Update:

A blog called L’Office du Jerriais, which describes itself as “the office that promotes the Jersey language,” linked to the above post and offered this additional information:

We have in Jèrriais the word “tchaque”, defined in the dictionary as “chock full”, presumably a borrowing from English, perhaps a maritime borrowing. We also have the verb “tchaquenarder” = to jostle. Whether the existence of the verb helped the assimilation of the English “chock” is a matter for speculation.

Idiom:
I’ s’tchaquenardait la chèrvelle = he racked his brains

Of course the English “chock” is by no means as English as it may appear, for if tchaque is chock then chock is really only being welcomed back to its Norman roots after an English vacation! English borrowed our Norman word chouque which became chock.

Chouque is also one of the Jèrriais words that crop up in Jersey English, used for example to refer to logs or firewood.

20 responses to ““Chokka”

  1. I’m full up. I think we should have a leaving do for chokka.

  2. ‘Chokka’ can mean busy or full-up. It can be used describe a place, ‘this bar is chokka’, or some thing more abstract like the day or your diary, ‘i’m chokka with meetings today’. My mother even uses it to describe how blocked her nose is when she has a flu!

  3. But you can all kinds of do’s, not just leaving do’s. You can have a welcome do, too!

  4. I’ve never heard a person describe themselves this way – it’s used normally to mean a place that’s full up, as in “the train was chock-a-block”. Very common here in the UK. I’d always vaguely imagined the term had an Indian derivation, like “chukka” and “pukka”, but apparently not.

  5. I’d spell it chocker, not chokka. As in, “The commuter train was chocker today, the fug was unbearable.”
    🙂

  6. I’m Australian – I thought it was Aussie slang, not Pommie🙂

    I’d say something was ‘chockablock’ or ‘chockers’, I can’t imagine a person being chockablock, but their schedule could be, or a room, a bag, or some other physical thing.

    A ‘do’ doesn’t need an adjective; it has a sense of formality, possibly obligation, and size. Four friends at a pub, even if it’s to farewell one of them, is not a ‘do’. For example, I will be attending my work Christmas do in a couple of weeks.

  7. In the UK there was a 1989 TV series called “A Bit of a Do” in which, in the words of Wikipedia, “each episode took place at a different social function”. Earliest OED reference from before 1824 “Such individuals should have their feast (or do, as it is called)” – the writer introducing a then unfamiliar usage.

    • In the 1950s, my father worked for a company called Potter-DeWitt, and each August hosted the “P-D Summer Do” at our cottage in western New York.

  8. I’m Dutch (fervent reader of your blog!), your ‘chokka’ immediately sounded familiar to me. We use the word ‘tjokvol’ in exactly the same sense as your chock-full. I had a quick look in one of my dictionnaries, hoping that chokka might have a Dutch origin (because of the nautical background), but no, it’s the other way round: we adopted the English term … Interesting lesson in etymology🙂

  9. I’d spell it chocker too – and I think it’s Aussie as well. But I use it all the time even though I’m a Brit. I wonder if the chokka spelling is a back-formation from ‘pukka’? This of course comes from India. Also in polo (terms also from India) a period of play is a chukka.

    • The spelling with -a is more likely a result of the fact that the term started out as an abbreviation of “chock-a-block”. My guess would be that the ‘-er’ spelling is a later development by non-rhotic speakers who conformed the word to other informal terms ending in ‘-er’.

  10. I’m British and am totally familiar with the word chocker (don’t think I’ve ever written it or seen it in print but I would err towards chocker rather than chokka). However, I’ve never heard it used in terms of “I’m chocker” before – as given in the example. Much more likely that a bus/train/shop is chocker with people or that something is stuffed full of inanimate objects eg your kitchen sink is chocker with mugs. Also frequently used for food e.g. this biscuit is chocker with nuts etc.

  11. As there has been discussion about the spelling, for the record Chambers dictionary latest edition has chocker, chock-a-block, chock-full and also choke-full. They also say it was originally Australian and New Zealand slang.

  12. Thanks for the dictionary definition – although it seems to have little or no connection with Australian usage. You _could_ be fed up because you’re chockers, but chockers itself does not carry that meaning.

  13. The ‘a’ ending is also common English as in
    pinta (pint of (milk))
    Cuppa (cup of) Tea

  14. I wonder if the Norman root has any relation to the Spanish word “choque,” meaning crash or shock.

  15. Always thought it was French and spelt choc a bloc but clearly not as nobody here thinks so and Chambers doesn’t have it. But having seen Ben’s Jersey blog update I suspect a French origin lurks somewhere in the past.

    Does anyone remember a BBC children’s television programme in the 1980s called Chock-a-Block? Wiki:
    “Chock-A-Block” was an extremely large yellow computer, modelled to resemble a mainframe of the time; it filled the entire studio and provided the entire backdrop for the show. The presenter of the show played the part of a technician maintaining the computer. There were two presenters, Fred Harris (“Chock-A-Bloke”) and Carol Leader (“Chock-A-Girl”), but only one appeared in each episode. At the start of the show, the presenter would drive around the studio towards the machine in a small yellow electric car, before saying the catchphrase “Chock-A-Bloke (or Girl), checking in!”).

    The presenter would then use the machine to find out about a particular topic. The name “chock-a-block” was derived from the machine’s ability to read data from “blocks” – which were just that, physical blocks painted different colours. A typical show would include dialogue from the presenter, a brief clip played on Chock-a-block’s video screen, and the presenter recording a song on Chock-a-block’s audio recorder (which resembled the reel-to-reel tape drives used on actual mainframes, but with a design below to cause the reels to resemble the eyes of a smiling face).”
    There’s even a nice colour photo of it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chock-A-Block

  16. Pingback: “The Magus” (Part 9/9) | Michelle Podsiedlik

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