The Grammarphobia Blog

If we had our druthers

Q: What does “if I had my druthers” mean and from where did the phrase originate?

A: The expression “if I had my druthers” means “if I had a choice” or “if I had a preference.”

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (5th ed.) describes “druthers” here as an informal plural noun meaning a choice or a preference.

American Heritage gives this example from the columnist George Will: “Given their druthers, these hell-for-leather free marketeers might sell the post office.”

The noun “druthers” actually began life as a verb in 19th-century America. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as a US dialectal alteration of the verb phrase “would rather.”

The OED’s only two examples of the verb are in the writings of Mark Twain. Here’s the earliest, from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876): “I’d druther they was devils a dern sight.”

The noun “druthers” showed up a couple of decades later. Oxford has this example from an 1895 issue of the American Dialect Society’s journal Dialect Notes:

“Bein’s I caint have my druthers an’ set still, I cal’late I’d better pearten up an’ go ‘long.”

The OED says the usage is also seen as “druther,” “ruther,” and “ruthers.” Here’s an example with “ruthers,” from William Alexander Percy’s 1941 autobiography, Lanterns on the Levee:

“ ‘Your ruthers is my ruthers’ (what you would rather is what I would rather). Certainly the most amiable and appeasing phrase in any language, the language used being not English but deep Southern.”

If we had our druther, ruther, druthers, or ruthers, we’d take a break now. And so we will. See you tomorrow.

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