New York Times food editor Sam Sifton is a friend of this blog, though I reckon he doesn’t know it. “Reckon” is in fact today’s topic. The verb — defined by the OED as “To consider; to conclude; to suppose, believe, think likely” — was used by Sifton last year in one of this newsletters, which are mainly about eating but also touch on other matters: “Now, it’s only a little bit about food but Dwight Garner got me to order Robert Menasse’s satirical novel ‘The Capital’ and I reckon you ought to do the same.”

Here’s Google Ngram’s assessment of the frequency of “I reckon” in British and U.S. books:

Note the greater popularity in the U.S. from about 1850 through 1950. I reckon (sorry, I’ll stop now) that much of the American use is due to the real or supposed affection of “reckon” by homespun types from the South or West. The word immediately brings to my mind The Beverly Hillbillies, and in fact it was used five times in the 1962 premiere episode, including this exchange:

JED: Granny! Them pigs o’ yours got into the corn.

GRANNY: Did they drink much?

JED: I reckon they did. This here little fella was kickin’ blue blazes out of the mule.

In Britain, there seems to have been at times a bit of a colloquial feel, especially when used parenthetically or at the end of a sentence.; a character in Thomas Hardy’s Old Mrs. Chundle (1929) says, “I may as well do that as do nothing, I reckon.” But it was also used in higher registers. Benjamin Jowett’s 1875 translation of Plato has this: “I reckon, said Socrates, that no one…could accuse me of idle talking.”

The Ngram chart shows “reckon” taking off in Britain starting in about 2000, presumably as a fashionable use of an old-fashioned word. The Corpus of Global Web-Based English, a snapshot of usage in 2012-2013, shows that process in full flower there, and even more so in Australia:

Frequency of “I reckon.” Bottom number is instances per million words.

And here, from GloWbE, is a sense of how it’s used in context in Britain:

If Sam Sifton is the reliable bellwether I think he is, America is about to catch up.

19 thoughts on ““Reckon”

  1. I grew up in the American South in the 1950’s and can witness to the wide use of “to reckon” in the sense of “to believe” or “to conclude” or “to expect it to be the case that” among my fellow Southerners. And I reckon I can speak with authority on the subject.

  2. Not sure I agree with the Ngram in this case. The first time I heard reckon in a non-Southern/cowboy context was from my Brit boyfriend when I was in grad school, fall of 1979. I remember it very clearly because it struck me as so peculiar. When I moved to England in May of the following year, I found the use of reckon to be widespread there.

  3. In southern Indiana, we never stopped using “I reckon” or “ya reckon?” I’m in in my thirties, and it’s common in all generations of my family. It seems more spoken than written though.

  4. Doesn’t fit my memories of growing up in 50s Britain – ‘reckon’ sounded then (as now) decidedly American, perhaps from pre-war Westerns.

  5. English East Midlands:

    I agree with Pat Hughes; I’ve heard ‘reckon’ all my life, 63 years and counting. I hadn’t noticed it had ‘come back into fashion’ or ever been away, though I’m confident I heard it less when I lived in London.

    I agree with Chris Poulson too; ‘You reckon?’ was a common response to even a mild challenge when I was at school. Usually hostile; or at least showing a readiness to take things further.

    I remember noticing it in Westerns too, perhaps because it was used slightly differently; or artificially by screenplay writers (or directors, actors).

    Where do ‘ready reckoners’ come into this? The phrase feels more British than US to me.

  6. I’ll have to agree. I am theoretically a US Southerner, and this is one way I am. I reckon I say it a couple of times a day, anyway. So I’ll have to recuse myself from objective comment.

  7. A schoolyard variant, definitely prevalent in southern England in the 1980s and 1990s: “reck-on” (with the stress on the second syllable) or the phrase “chinny reck-on” (accompanied by exaggerated stroking of the chin) to indicate scepticism regarding the veracity of the interlocutors discourse.


    “I copped off with Julie last night and she took her bra off.”
    “Oh chinny reck-on!”

    1. Don’t recall that, but I was at school earlier.
      I do recall a reference on a TV comedy show, possibly The Mary Whitehouse Experience, where that action accompanied the name Jimmy Hil, possibly because the footballer and TV pundit had a goatee beard.

  8. British SE, born 1960s. ‘I reckon’ wasn’t used much in my youth at all because it sounded like an Americanism to me, or like something I would hear on a Northern programme in a Yorkshire accent, e.g. All Creatures Great and Small. Maybe because I went to an all-girls’ school, but timfootman’s example about bragging or expressing disbelief does not sound at all familiar. On the other hand, I definitely use reckon frequently now.

  9. I thought it was an Americanism, probably from all those American films we grew up with. It wasn’t common parlance. I fancy I can hear it in the voice of Joe Grundy in the Archers, a long-running BBC drama serial set in a fictional rural village, Ambridge, in the English Midlands. The ‘country bumpkins’ such as the Grundy family, or old countrymen, say Walter Gabriel, have the cod accents adopted by actors to signify country folk out in the sticks. I can also hear it in a West Country cod accent and dialect.

  10. I probably use it more than I used to, and, coincidentally, I have previously wondered, for some reason, if it may feel a little artificial.

  11. Stop Press – ‘reckon’ as a noun on Quora yesterday: ‘In closing I’d like to say thank you for parading the full majesty of your uninformed reckons. They’ve been entertaining.’

    Never seen that before, or heard it. It was written by one Kayne Harrison, who seems to be a City of London solicitor (two degrees – LLB, MSc – and the LPC post-graduate diploma) in his 40s. Later he wrote ‘Well, if you’re claiming that your uninformed reckon is a source, I s’pose you’re right’.

    The repetition of ‘uninformed reckon’ led me to search, soon finding this BBC comedy skit from around 13 years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQnd5ilKx2Y containing ‘Let us enjoy the full majesty of your uninformed ad hoc reckon’.

    So is this the origin of reckon-as-noun, or just a populariser? Have any of you heard it? This reckon-as-noun could explain the UK peak in ‘reckon’ in Ben’s Ngram graph.

  12. With no evidence to back me up I reckon this one seeped in to the UK via Aussie soaps, along with “uni” and “dag”, although not sure the latter hung around for very long.

  13. Nice catch, Ben! I should have checked. I’ll investigate all this further when I have the time. ‘I reckon’ the recent popularity of ‘to reckon’ will be due to certain overused expressions, not an expansion of properly integrated time-honoured usage.

    I couldn’t resist sharing my new knowledge of ‘reckon-as-noun’ somewhere, and I’d been meaning to give my rusty German a work out, so yesterday I posted this contrived answer on German Quora: https://de.quora.com/Was-gibt-es-f%C3%BCr-W%C3%B6rter-die-nur-die-Briten-benutzen/answer/David-Griggs-7?__nsrc__=4&__snid3__=12863934190

    I nicked the ‘Erkennungstabelle’ from Lynne Murphy’s blog, hope she doesn’t mind the theft, or my lazy layman’s use of it. I assumed that 90% of Americans would not know: ‘to have a butchers’ = butcher’s hook = ‘to have a look’ and ‘to tell porkies’ = pork pies = ‘to tell lies’. Both very widely known in the UK, partly thanks to the soap Eastenders, which has promoted a few items of rhyming slang whilst censoring the rest (the 99% which includes the best).

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