“Some folks stroll down memory lane, others stride, but you, my friend, build an interstate highway into your past along which you send a conquering army to take permanent possession of what others consider the lost and faded moments of their lives. All your friends and I are the fortunate beneficiaries of that conquest.”
—Paul Talmadge, in personal email to Jimmy Peacock,
dated September 22, 2014
The previous post on this blog was titled “You Might Be from the Country If . . . Part I.” In that post I noted that I was marking my seventy-sixth birthday on November 23 by publishing two posts on Southeast Arkansas terms I heard and used as a child in my birthplace of Selma, Arkansas.
I then provided a glossary of such terms illustrated by personal photos and other representative online images. At the end of that post I listed several other online sources of examples and tests of Southern speech and culture. In response to that post Paul Talmadge wrote to me on November 24, “Your catalogue of southernisms is amazing!”
However, I soon discovered that the material I still had on hand would require two new posts and not just one, as originally planned.
In this post, the second in the series of three, I offer an examination of some of the terms I learned while growing up on my father’s ranch and working in his cattle business during the 1940s and 50s. My apprentice cowboy days ended with his untimely death at the McGehee Livestock Auction on May 25, 1954, while he was working in the ring and I was penning cattle in the back of the barn. He was forty-nine years old, and I was fifteen. (I discussed this subject in my earlier post titled, “My Father’s Brand and [Corporate] Seal.”)
Terms I Heard in My Father’s Cattle Business
“Are there any words I should know besides ‘Howdy,’
‘Yup’ and ‘Whoa’ if I wanna speak cowboy?”
–Dennis the Menace in cartoon,
Tulsa World, 11/29/14
As I have often noted, I was born in 1938 on my father’s ranch in rural Selma, Arkansas. As such, I often worked with cattle and traveled the Ark-La-Miss area with Daddy and my two older brothers visiting livestock auctions. Besides the McGehee Livestock Auction, in which Daddy was a half-owner with auctioneer C.B. Walker, some of the other weekly auctions we visited regularly were located in: Monticello, Eudora, and Pine Bluff, Arkansas; Greenville, Mississippi; and Delhi, Louisiana.
Here is just a small sample of some of the Western terms (and local pronunciations) I heard during my childhood and early adulthood in the course of Daddy’s cattle business.
bit: part of a Western bridle held in the horse’s mouth, as when I was told by my father that I needed to “take the bit in my mouth” in order to finish a hard task. (For other parts of a Western bridle, click here.)
breastplate and martingale: parts of the gear of a Western bridle and saddle. (The term “breastplate” is defined by Wikipedia as “a piece of riding equipment used on horses . . . to keep the saddle or harness from sliding back.” A “martingale” is defined by Wikipedia as “any of several designs of tack that are used on horses to control head carriage.” See the photos of a “breastplate” and a “martingale” below.)
calf: the offspring of a cow, pronounced “caife” in SEARK, as when my mother would tell me about a poorly done piece of work: “I think you need to go back and lick your calf over again.” When I was too weak or timid she told me, “You need to get some bull in your neck!”
drugstore cowboy: what we called a “dude” who wore Western clothes such as hats and boots but who had never owned any cattle or even lived or worked on a ranch or farm. (Incidentally, I still own two Western hats and three pairs of Western boots which I call my “Proust boots,” named after the French author Marcel Proust who described the power of the taste of a small cake called a “petite Madeleine” to evoke unconscious memories and associations from his childhood, as I am doing in this entire blog! See the quote on recalling unconscious memories in the addenda to this post.)
dude: what we called an outsider, especially a “citified” character who knew nothing of Western dialect and lifestyle.
girt: what we called the girth or cinch on a Western saddle, terms which are defined by Wikipedia as “a piece of equipment used to keep the saddle in place on a horse or other animal.” (To view the standard parts of a Western saddle, click here.)
lope: a certain gait of a horse. (This term is defined by the Merriam-Webster as “an easy natural gait of a horse resembling a canter.” “Canter,” a term that was never used in my SEARK Western upbringing, is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a 3-beat gait resembling but smoother and slower than the gallop.”)
muley: term used to describe hornless or polled cattle. (This term is defined by Merriam-Webster as “of Celtic origin; akin to Irish & Scottish Gaelic maol bald, hornless, Welsh moel First Known Use: 1840.”)
tack: Western horse gear. (This term is defined by Wikipedia as “a piece of equipment or accessory equipped on horses in the course of their use as domesticated animals. Saddles, stirrups, bridles, halters, reins, bits, harnesses, martingales, and breastplates are all forms of horse tack.”)
Distinguishing between Western Animals/Terms
“You don’t have to be an expert judge of horseflesh
to be able to tell a jackass from a thoroughbred!”
(Unfortunately, too many of those people we have
to deal with these days are no thoroughbreds!)
On the subject of livestock, you might have been raised on a farm or ranch if . . .
. . . you can recognize by sight—or even distinguish blindfolded by smell—the droppings of:
cattle (and even distinguish between the droppings of cattle and calves)
. . . you can name at least five breeds of barnyard animals such as:
horses (example, Clydesdale), for others, click here.)
cattle (example, Jersey), for others, click here.)
hogs (example, Duroc), for others, click here.)
chickens (example, Rhode Island Red), for others, click here.)
To view one of Joe Dempsey’s recent “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” blog posts which features (besides some Delta scenes of rice fields, views from the Mississippi River levee, a cypress slough in autumn, etc.) several photos of different breeds of cattle, an inquisitive donkey, and a couple of horses, click here.
About these levee cattle Joe says:
“There are always enterprising cattlemen who use the levees as pasture land for their stock. [My father was one of them. Believe me, riding in a pickup truck loaded down with restless cattle up and down and along the sides of a levee was not for the faint-hearted!] This levee was no different. I found this herd of cattle, which looks like bovine diversity in practice. The cattle and levees have a symbiotic relationship. The levees provide food to the cattle and the cattle provide fertilizer and lawn trimming services to the levee.
“Mind you, I am no cattle expert, but in this group you see signs of Holstein, Charolais, Hereford, Angus, Jersey and what appears to be the Appaloosa of the cow world.”
. . . you know the difference between . . .
heifer and Hereford
shoat and chute
chaps and craps
Guernsey and Jersey
gait and gate
gee and haw
Answers (all from either Wikipedia, marked Wiki, or from Merriam-Webster, marked MW):
A heifer is “a young cow before she has had her first calf” (Wiki); a Hereford is “a beef cattle breed, widely used both in intemperate areas and temperate areas, mainly for meat production” and often called simply a “whiteface.”
A shoat is “a young hog and especially one that has been weaned” (MW); a chute is “a channel for handling and sorting [or restraining] farm animals” (Wiki), as in the country saying, “I feel like an old cow in front of a new chute!”
Chaps (pronounced “shaps”) are “sturdy coverings for the legs consisting of leggings and a belt” (Wiki); craps is “a dice game in which the players make wagers on the outcome of the roll, or a series of rolls, of a pair of dice” (Wiki).
A Guernsey is “a breed of cattle used in dairy farming. It is orange/red and white in colour, and is particularly renowned for the rich flavour of its milk, as well as its hardiness and docile disposition” (Wiki); a Jersey is “a small breed of dairy cattle. Originally bred in the Channel Island of Jersey, the breed is popular for the high butterfat content of its milk and the lower maintenance costs attending its lower bodyweight, as well as its genial disposition” (Wiki).
A gait is defined by the Merriam-Webster as “any of the sequences of foot movement (as the walk, trot, pace, or canter) by which a horse moves forward.” This term is distinguished from the common term gate for an opening in a fence, which was always closed unless a “dude” went through it and left it open, a real no-no on a ranch or farm.
According to Wikipedia, gee and haw are “voice commands used to tell a draft animal [like a horse or mule] to turn right or left. . . . Gee (pronounced ‘jee’) means to turn to the off side (away from the driver). Haw means to turn to the near side (towards the driver). In the United States, the driver of draft animals sits on their left, so animals will turn right to the gee command, and left to the haw command.”
Incidentally, do you know the only noun in English related to Country-Western language that follows the German style of forming the plural by adding “-en” to the end of the noun, as in the German terms for “soldier/soldiers”: “soldat/soldaten”?
Answer: ox/oxen (see online German-English dictionary by clicking here.)
The third post in this series, titled “You Might Be from the Country If . . . Part III,” will continue the same theme of this second one with a couple of quizzes of your experience with and knowledge of the Country-Western lifestyle and its depiction in 1940s and 50s movies. It will conclude with a citation of some of my favorite French quotations collected over my long career as a “French-cowboy” teacher, translator, and interpreter.
Addenda and Updates
Since I published my last post titled “You Might Be from the Country If . . . Part I” I have copied or received several additional items relating to memories and to my birthplace and the Mississippi River Delta area of my childhood and youth.
First is a quote on memories that I saw in Parade magazine on November 23, my seventy-sixth birthday (italics mine):
“. . . memories are chemical, meaning that they have substance, however slight. (Otherwise, they could not exist.) People who can be hypnotized . . . may respond to the suggestion to ‘forget’ certain events . . . but this action simply prevents them from being able to recall the episodes. The memory itself still exists in their brains. Eliminating the physical matter of the memory is beyond the reach of hypnosis. . . . when the suggestion to forget is withdrawn, all of the memories return, which is understandable: After all, they never left; they were just inaccessible.”
—Marilyn Savant, “Ask Marilyn,” Parade magazine
Sunday, November 23, 2014,
Next is a Southern Web site sent to me by my cousin Kay Barrett Bell titled “Garden and Gun” with a link to some interesting and nostalgic still photos from the classic 1939 movie Gone With the Wind which is celebrating its seventy-fifth birthday. To access these sites go to: www.gardenandgun.com and then click on “The Making of Gone with the Wind,” or simply go to: http://gardenandgun.com/gallery/making-gone-wind
On September 11, 2014, in her Arkansas blog titled “Tie Dye Travels” Kat Robinson published a post called “5 Unique Arkansas Foods” which are listed as: 1) Chocolate gravy, 2) Possum pie, 3) Cheese dip, 4) Fried pickles, and 5) Tamales. To read about each of these fascinating Arkansas culinary delicacies, click on the title above.
The following painting of the Mississippi River Delta by Gary Walters with a Delta poem by Patricia Neely-Dorsey was sent to me by my high school classmate and longtime friend Pat Scavo.
Finally here is an announcement of a new book by Gayle Harper about her voyage of discovery down the Mighty Mississippi which I discussed in an earlier post:
“Roadtrip with a Raindrop:
90 Days Along the Mississippi River”
I am absolutely thrilled to share this with you! The books are here—and they are gorgeous! The brand spankin’ new website is live at www.gayleharper.com and is taking orders!
This journey has been—and continues to be—the adventure of a lifetime! I have looked forward to putting it into your hands for a very long time!
It is a luscious 240-page hard cover edition with nearly 200 full-color photographs. In a series of 55 short stories, each one complete with its photographs, you will have your own experience of this 90-day road trip.
We keep pace with an imaginary raindrop called Serendipity, on her nearly 2,400-mile journey from the headwaters of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. We watch the river grow from a fragile stream into a massive force of nature. We pass through dramatic changes in culture, geography, lifestyle, accents, foods and agriculture, but what does not change is the warm open-heartedness of the people I encounter. Join Serendipity and me as we meet people on their porches, in their farm fields, in cafés and even while stopped for road construction. They invite me to dances, birthday parties, home for dinner, out on their boats and into their lives. It is a joyful, unplanned wandering through the heart of our nation.
Come see for yourself at www.gayleharper.com
The photo of the breastplate was taken from:
The photo of the martingale was taken from:
The photo of the girth was taken from:
The photos of the muley cow and other cattle were taken from Joe Dempsey’s “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind” at:
The photo of the spurs was taken from:
The photo of the Hereford bull was taken from:
The photo of a chute was taken from:
The photo of the chaps was taken from:
The photo of a Guernsey cow was taken from:
The photo of a Jersey cow was taken from:
The photo of two yoked oxen was taken from:
The photo of Gone with the Wind was sent to me by Pat Scavo. It was taken from:
The photo of the painting of the Mississippi River Delta was sent to me by Pat Scavo and used by permission of its artist, Gary Walters. It was taken from:
The photo of the Delta poem by Patricia Neely-Dorsey was used by permission of the poet. It was taken from:
The photo of the cover of the book titled Roadtrip with a Raindrop was used by permission of Gayle Harper. It was taken from her Web site at: