The Tuck Shop

When I was little the tuck shop was a place where you bought food when you had forgotten (or were lucky enough) to be able to buy your lunch from school. Sports clubs also had tuck shops where you could by drinks and pasties, but that was pretty much the only places that I ever saw or heard of them. I was quite surprised when I found that there are tuck shop's everywhere in Botswana. Here they function almost like a Milk Bar or corner store, rather than the school tuck shop that we know in Australia.

I've always been interested in the etymology of words. I think that they add depth and insight in a places culture and history. For instance, the best way to determine if Vitamin A deficiency is endemic to a region is to ask if the community has a specific word for "night blindness". This seemingly adhoc test has been proven to be more sensitive than many scientific approaches as Vitamin A is notoriously difficult to measure in the lab.

But I digress. The similar use of the word 'tuck shop' in Botswana and Australia made me reflect on our common colonial past and ponder where the word originated. Naturally I turned to the most accurate and knowledgeable place that I know - Wikipedia. Wiki says that the term "tuck" (closely related to the work "tucker") is probably slang for "to tuck into a meal". The Tuck Family operated several food businesses in England between 1780-1850 and there are documented paintings with 'Tuck' written over their doors (hence 'Tuck Shop'). Two of the brother's emigrated to Australia and set up food shops there, and the rest, implies Wiki, is history. But this doesn't really explain why the word is so prolific in southern Africa. Even after extensive searches I can't really find any more information on the net.

My best guess is that the word 'tuck' became popular as a word for snack foods and was then sent around the world as the British colonised the empire. These small shops gained popularity in southern Africa as places to sell small items, particularly in townships and villages where land ownership was forbidden during British colonial rule. In Botswana, these shops now sell everything - single cigarettes, cans of beer, cans of soft drink, 'air time' (prepaid phone time), sweets, fruit... almost anything that can be sold in singular form is sold there. And these ones that I snapped in a rural village just outside of Gaborone were all painted lovely colours as well!

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