To tucker out is to tire, to become fatigued. The term began its life as a New England regionalism in the mid-19th century. From the c.1840 Story of Bee Tree:
I’m clear tuckered out with these young ones.
And Bartlett’s 1848 Dictionary of Americanisms says:
TUCKERED OUT. Tired out; fatigued. Used in New York and New England.
I guess the Queen don’t do her eating very airly; for we sot and sot and waited for her, till we got eenamost tuckered out.—N.Y. Family Comp.
The phrasal verb comes from the verb to tuck, meaning to draw in. It’s a reference to the flanks of an animal being drawn in from malnutrition or exhaustion. Tucked up was also used to refer to this condition. From William Youatt’s 1845 The Dog:
They generally are very thin,...with sharp-pointed ears, deep chest, and tucked-up flanks.
And from Frederick Elworthy’s 1888 The West Somerset Word-Book:
Tucked up, applied to animals, especially horses after hard riding—looking thin. Th’ old mare’s a bit a-tucked up.
The Australian slang word tucker, meaning food, is distantly related to the sense meaning to tire. This version of the term, which is found in New Zealand as well, dates to at least 1858 when it appears in the 31 August edition of the Morning Chronicle:
Diggers, who have great difficulty in making their tucker at digging.
The Australian usage comes from a British slang usage of tuck meaning to eat or, as a noun, food. The verb dates to at least 1784 when it appears in Robert Bage’s Barham Downs:
We will dine together; tuck up a bottle or two of claret.
The noun dates to 1823 when it appears in Spirit of the Public Journals:
He, being inclined for a tuck out, repaired where he was likely to meet with oysters.
These comestible uses come from the same root of tuck meaning to take in.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2015, by David Wilton