Sunday, June 19, 2005

Talking Texan

If you’ve ever been to Texas or just watched enough movies or television shows, you’ve been able to figure out that we Texans talk a bit differently than our neighbors in the other 49 states. We use words and phrases that are unique to our part of the country, and while we’re not necessarily boastful about that, we don’t apologize for it, either.

But if you watch a lot of Hollywood movies or mainstream news media product, you’ll hear words and phrases attributed to Texans which are entirely in the minds of Yankee or Left Coast screen and news writers. As my effort to provide at least a palliative for this condition, here’s Muley’s short guide to a few Texas words and phrases to give you an idea of what really comes out of our mouths in the Lone Star State.

Y’ALL This one is the legitimate item. Its use is almost the prima facie proof of Texas citizenship, because “y’all” is used by just about everyone here, whether they are poor or rich, blue or white collar, college educated or not, Anglo or black or Hispanic. It’s a quicker, easier word than its uncontracted parent, “you all,” which I hear tell is the phrase used elsewhere. It just sounds stilted to us here -- “Do you all want to go to the movies?” I understand that up North, the preferred phrase is “you guys” -- “Do you guys want to go to the movies?” And I guess (movie stereotypes operating here), if I was in Brooklyn, I’d ask, “Does youse guys wants to go to the picture?”

Nope. We’re quite satisfied with “ya’ll” here, no matter if people elsewhere laugh at us or look down on us for it.

FIXIN’ TO This is another one that is so common in Texas it’s barely even noticed. What is the “proper” alternative, anyway? “I’m getting ready to proceed to the movies, James.” “I’m preparing to visit the car wash, Millicent.” Nah. Just say, “I’m fixin’ to go get some lunch. Ya’ll coming?”

COLORFUL PHRASES Dan Rather has harmed the image of Texans with things other than his biased, fact-starved reporting. Those colorful phrases he uses on TV newscasts (“If a frog had side pockets he’d carry a handgun,” “as thin as turnip soup,” “nasty enough to choke a buzzard,” “hot enough to peel the paint off houses”) might make people think that’s the way the average Texan talks all the time. Nope. Hate to burst your bubble.

Sure, if you watch an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” you’ll probably hear some phrases similar to those, but that’s the screenwriters talking again. I’d say about 95 percent of the colorful phrases attributed to Texans aren’t heard here in normal conversation, at least in places which have a nodding acquaintance with the 21st century.

However, we do use such phrases every now and then if we want to make a point, or just have fun. I have heard used (and used myself) such phrases as “the Devil’s beating his wife” (when it’s raining during sunshine), “cold as a welldigger’s ***,” “seven ways come Sunday,” "rode hard and put up wet," "I ain't worth killing" (when you're exhausted) and “nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” Mind you, these are normally not used in polite company or in professional settings ("Please welcome our guest speaker, who flew in late last night and isn't worth killing"), and usually are trotted out for effect, but I do hear them from time to time.

But “a frog with side pockets?” Get real.

MULEYISMS No, I haven’t invented any Texas phrases that have gone statewide. But this is a big, big state, and I’ve learned that there are words and phrases some Texans grow up with that are unknown in other parts of the state.

For example, one of my true rural Texanisms is the verb “tump.” This means “to turn over” or “to tip over,” as in, “He tumped over the bucket of water.” I grew up with my parents and playmates saying this all the time, but when I use it around Mrs. Muley, she says, “Where did you get that word? It’s ‘tipped’ over, not ‘tumped.’”

Another one is the adjective “caddy-wampus.” Have you ever seen someone park a car sideways where they take up two parking spaces instead of one? If so, they have parked “caddy-wampus” (pronounced “WOMP-us, the “wamp” like in “swamp”). Again, this is one I don’t hear everywhere, leading me to believe it’s a regional dialect word.

THE SOFT DRINK TEST Here’s one way to get a handle on whether someone grew up in Texas. If a Texan wants a soft drink, he says, “Let’s go get a Coke,” even if what he wants is a Pepsi or a Dr Pepper. I’ve been told that in other parts of the country, the equivalent phrase is, “Let’s go get a pop” or “Let’s go get a soda.”

PRONUNCIATION Finally, one of the easiest ways to tell if someone has grown up in Texas (as opposed to, say, in Pennsylvania or Boston) is how they pronounce common words. For example, what do you call those big brown and black nuts that fall from trees? In Texas, they are called puh-CAHNS, not PEE-cahns. Here in Texas, we eat puh-CAHN pie, not PEE-cahn pie. I enjoyed when Billy Crystal had fun with this one in the movie "When Harry Met Sally."

When Texans talk about a small creek, they don't say by-YOO, like Linda Ronstadt sang about in "Blue Bayou," but instead, we mention the BY-yoh, like Hank Williams sang about when he sang "Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou" in the song "Jambalaya."

One way to tell if a newscaster grew up in Texas is the way he pronounces city names. For example, if he pronounces the name of the city of Mexia as "MEX-ee-uh," he's an outsider or just plumb ignorant. If he correctly says "muh-HAY-uh," he's either a Texan or has taken the time to learn the language. Other surefire city tests are Refugio (for some strange reason it's pronounced 'ruh-FYUR-ee-oh') and Waxahachie (it's 'WOX-uh-hatch-ee,' not 'WHACKS-uh-hatch-ee').

I guess that's about all I have to say regarding talking Texan right now. I'm fixin' to go to bed and catch some shuteye. Ya'll come back now, hear?


nightfly said...

I have a good friend, born and raised in Dallas. He says that the most accurate Texan (adj.) on television is the excellent "King of the Hill." (He grew up with a guy who talked just like Boomhauer.)

Gentleman Farmer said...

Texas is hardly the only home of odd local dialect. My mother was a daughter of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, than which there is no more remote a locale. The thing smoke comes out of is a "chimblee," and I to this day pronounce the word "water" as "wudder." And you're almost right about that poorly-parked car: it's actually parked "on the catta-bias," whatever the heck THAT means.

Stacy said...

My parents were from the South and I lived there upon occassion throughout my childhood, we always ended up back in Colorado. It's funny, when my mother comes back from visiting her family, her old accent and style reappear. She'll leave me these long, slow, drawn-out messages. My husband swears that my mother is using drugs.

Anonymous said...

y'all mentioned the colorful phrase "the Devil’s beating his wife" (when it’s raining during sunshine)... that's actually French... it's an old wives' tale from Southern France...
probably imported into Texas from the Cajuns in Louisiana next door... the Cajuns were originally from Southern France, more than 200 years ago

and "colder than a welldigger's ***" is probably from old England, and is just as popular in northern states... my dad used to say it all the time, and he was from southern Milwaukee

Hick from Nowhere said...

I always park my beat up '68 Plymouth caddy wampus at the Wal-Mart.
Believe it or not, it has over 500 grand on it.

Missy said...

The Devil's beating his wife is an idiom I learned as a child visiting my grandparents in New Orleans, hence, the French/Cajun connection.

You left out "He'd b*** if you hung him with a new rope" which is a great way to describe someone who complains with their last breath.

I grew up using "tumped" as a regular verb, so it was nice to see it here again.

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