I wrote this sentence today:

John rode in the back, where he had made himself a place among our possibles.

The first run through of the sentence read:

John rode in the back, where he had made himself a place among our belongings.

Of course, spellcheck didn’t recognize the word possibles. (Spellcheck doesn’t recognize the word spellcheck, either.) Neither does my Websters or any online dictionary. Possibles is an arcane word. I say that because it’s one of those words still known to a few of us who’ve listened carefully to the idioms of people who used words like icebox. Otherwise it is lost, or at least fast fading from the lexicon.

It’s too bad. Possibles is a great word, flexible but meaningful. I suppose you could substitute the word essentials, but that’s not quite the same.

Possibles once meant one of two things:

A person’s possessions which made it possible to live and persevere. Your knife, gun, ammo, food, etc.

Those possessions which it was possible to take or carry about. The stuff that would fit on your covered wagon. Which implies a need to prioritize one’s possibles.

In one sense, one’s possibles were his survival kit. Hunters and frontiersmen had things called possibles bags, which contained their gunpowder, rifle shot, etc., which made shooting game possible.  You can still find “possibles bags” or “possibles pouches” on the Internet, some made in old-fashioned styles.

Here’s an example of a modern possibles bag, with the blogger’s explanation of what he’s putting in it.
In the movie Jeremiah Johnson, the title character – played by Robert Redford – meets up with a pilgrim name Del Gue, who has been attacked by Blackfeet Indians. They buried him up to his neck and stole his horse, his rifle and his pelts. Johnson agrees to help him get them back.

Having found the enemy’s camp, they discuss whether to attack at once or wait until the men are asleep. Del Gue wants his stolen things, and he also wants revenge. Johnson insists on waiting, and avoiding a fight. “I have no truck with them Blackfeet, I plan to be here a long time.”

After dark, he says, “Should be no trouble to slip in there and then get your possibles.”

That’s a correct usage of the word, I think. It’s that which makes your living possible, your essential stuff. And what’s better than to have such a useful word as that?

4 thoughts on “possibles

  1. Oh yeah, I forgot about that usage, Joseph. :o) I think the important thing about words like this is to let the character speak. And not to be concerned about the nebulous reader, who is far more make-believe than the character is. If that makes sense.

  2. I love the word 'possibles' and also love using words that aren't common but add specific, elegant meaning to a sentence and a scene.I also had to LOL at the fact that spellcheck doesn't recognize the word spellcheck!

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