New Hampshire Slanguage: Puckerbrush

Three Views, No. 1: Mount Washington from Shelburn, New Hampshire John William Hill; watercolor and graphite on off-white wove paper, Gift of J. Henry Hill 1882. The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection.

Three Views, No. 1: Mount Washington from Shelburn, New Hampshire. John William Hill; watercolor and graphite on off-white wove paper, Gift of J. Henry Hill 1882. The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection.

The word “puckerbrush” usually describes an area of land that is mostly composed of scrub-brush. Often land formerly used in farming, left neglected, becomes a thriving place for invasive species such as poison ivy, sumac, and buckthorn.

A second meaning of the word describes any incidence when a person is lost, or away from their normal understanding.  It can describe a real, or imagined place.  [For example, “He is out in the puckerbrush.”]

The “One Look Dictionary” calls it “colloquial speech of Carleton County, New Brunswick, Canada.”  However, this term was used in the manner described above in Maine, New Hampshire, and probably other locations in New England.  Whether New Englanders brought the word to Canada, or vice versa, is unknown.

Apparently this term is still used in Maine, as a hunting and fishing guide service in Machias ME calls itself the “Puckerbrush Guide Service.”  Puckerbrush Press, and the Puckerbrush Review, were both born in Maine.

You can find the term in literature. In “Tales of a Vanishing River,” Earl Howell Reed describes a character he calls, “Puckerbrush Bill.”  A possible explanation is that although Earl was born and raised in Illinois, his mother was from Maine and possibly taught him the word.


[Editor’s note: this post was updated 26 October 2014]

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7 Responses to New Hampshire Slanguage: Puckerbrush

  1. atyatlek says:

    In the summer of 1971 I climbed nearly all the 4000-footers, sometimes with a cousin who referred to the undergrowth as “puckerbrush.” I learned the word from him and still use it in reference to tight, nearly impassible, often thorny growth. So the word is still being used in NH, at least by one person.

  2. M.A. Sperry says:

    I live in Ohio and the land where my house is located, my husband’s grandfather referred to as “Puckerbrush”. The land was originally a cow pasture, an apple orchard and a peach orchard but now has been “domesticated”, sort of. There are areas of lawn, fir trees, maple, sycamore, beech, hickory, tulip poplars and of course, POISON IVY. It’s home to raccoons, fox, ground hogs, squirrels (of every kind) and birds. It’s also home to three Labrador retrievers. And we LOVE it!

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  4. linda. says:

    Yes! My 81 year old mother, born and raised in Connecticut, uses this word to describe areas of land as described above.

  5. Tom Dennison says:

    My Dad, whose parents both haled from New Brunswick, was born in Concord NH in 1926. He used “puckerbrush” routinely. I grew up in the Concord area. I still use it. I am 62. My wife grew up here and also knows the word but she would not have gotten it from her non-Yankee parents. Tom

  6. Wayne Davis says:

    My Grandmother (Audrey Smith) from Bangor Maine surrounding used pucker when we would be in a hurry. She would say “don’t be in such a pucker” of course pucker sounded more like puckahh

  7. Steve says:

    I was born and raised in Jaffrey NH and learned the term from my dad. In a recent trip through Wyoming I stopped to visit friends and used the term to describe some of the places I drove through. My friends (originally from California) didn’t know what I meant. That’s the first time it occurred to me that it must not be a universal term!

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