Thursday, November 6, 2014

Surcee - 'just because'

"surcee: (n) - hmmmm....."

There is no entry for 'surcee' in my desk copy of the M-W dictionary.  Random House also failed me.

I know the word is there.  I learned it growing up.  My wife has always referred to it as a 'happy' (the use of an adjective as a noun bugs me, but it communicates the sense pretty well).  A surcee, or a happy, is a gift given with no associated reason.  It is not a thank you gift, or a birthday gift. 

It is a 'just because'. 

It is different from the concept of lagniappe.  Lagniappe is a gift given in addition to the purchase.  It is intended to augment a business relationship, and push and economic transaction into more of a personal realm.  Surcees are different, because they are intended to celebrate the relationship; they are a gift given because the person was thinking about you.

I love the idea.  It might be because my birthday falls right after Christmas, and I couldn't expect a gift at any other time of the year.  It might be because such a gift giving appeals strongly to my spontaneous nature.

Or it might be because I see it as an expression of love.

See, if you give me a gift on my birthday, and I give you one on yours, we have a quid-pro-quo going on.  Even if I miss your birthday, there is a weird obligation relationship - it is almost as though the spirit of the gift desires to be returned to the originator.

The surcee has no such draw.  It is a gift of small value, often a spur-of-the-moment purchase, made with the recipient in mind.  The candy bar that you know they like.  The silly earrings you thought they would laugh at.  The box of the coveted chocolate-covered ginger Altoids. A cutting from your rosebush. All the gifts have little value - they are picayune - but communicate love.

Interestingly, I believe that the new Coca-Cola campaign is based on the premise of the surcee.  Share a coke with Steve.  Or Robert.  Or a Buddy.  The campaign encourages the unexpected gift.  Expressions of love.  The purchase of a coke for yourself.... and then one to share. 

An internet search for 'surcee' seems to locate its use in coastal South Carolina, and I suppose that makes sense.  I heard my mom use it, but I don't remember it from my dad.  Or from many others in the upstate, for that matter. 

But I am going to work to bring it to life where I live.  Because I need to give surcees.  And because I love to get them. 

How about it?  Can you think of someone who could use a small gift, for no reason? 

Go.  Give them a surcee.


aunt Patty said...

Love the blog. I love love it when you write.

Crorey Lawton said...

> I grew up receiving and giving 'surcees' - small gifts without an occasion.
> Once I moved away from South Carolina, I discovered that it was a local
> term. Since then, I have run into others from the area that use it. How
> wide is its distribution?

The Dictionary of American Regional English (which spells it sirsee,
though with many variations) cites it as being, in its terms, South
Atlantic in distribution, which is broadly the east coast states from
North Carolina to northern Florida. No origin is known for it.

Michael Quinion
World Wide Words