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Texan Spoken Here Keith Elliott Austin Here awhile back, I hooted and hollered till who laid the chunk, mighty neat. My merriment was occasioned by something I read in Time magazine. A cowhand observing the President on a horse was quoted as drawling, “That fella’s been in the saddle afore.” Whoa right there, Podner. A Texan does not say “afore” when he means “before.” He may say “afar” when he means “a fire.” He may say “thang” for “thing” and “whelp” for “welt” and even “bah” for “.’bye.” But “afore” simply isn’t in his vocabulary. I do not mean to carp or, as we say in Texas, bellyache. My concern here is the purity of the languageTexan, that is. I have spoken Texan all my life. Indeed, I spoke Texan before I spoke English. It is not a difficult tongue, once you get the twang of it. My wife, who hails from New England, picked up Texan in no time, and now actually prefers it to New England. \(“Hobble your lip, Flannelmouth,” she sometimes says, endearingly, “and come and fly at the muck-a-muck.” Lord love But I digress. \(“You’re milling,” my wife would say, invoking the Texas expression mill, then, about my point that Texan, as a language, is in jeopardy; its integrity is threatened. I fear that my native tongue may go the way of Sanskrit. Worse yet, communicated through the tongue-deaf ears of outlanders, it may evolve into something like pidginTexan. For it is a disturbing, not to say riling, fact that Eastern scribes filing color stories from Lyndon B. Johnson’s homeland have been experiencing some difficulty getting the idiom across the old palate. Far be it from me to suggest that the President is riled by the scrambled speech attributed to him and his fellow Texans by tin-eared quotesmiths, yet I know Mr. Johnson to be an eminently rileable man, as touchy as a teased snake on some subjects. When it comes down to taw, the President is no hombre to horse around with if there is the smallest chance he’s Spooky about his lingo. Frankly, I think the Berlitz people would be wise to begin designing courses aimed at fluency in Texan, just in case. IN THE MEANTIME, let’s pretend that the President is indeed riled that his vernacular is getting short shrift from the press. Now he has made a decision to come to the aid of his patois. The scene is of the President’s ranch home near Stonewall. A press aide in boots, chaps and sombrero addresses a garble of newsmen from the top stoop \(which is not unlike a “Howdy, Podners. As long as yawl are lollygaggin’ about the spread, I reckoned as how we might pitch a lil ol’ woollybooger. If you’ll just dally your tongues a spell . . .” “What in hell are you trying to say, George?” “Your pardon, Gentlemen. I must have slipped inadvertently into the Topkick’s argot. Listen, you guys have been turning some good color copy from here, and we know you’re trying for verisimilitude in your quotes, and believe me, the President savvies.” “Savvies ?” “Digs. He’s hip, I mean, to what you’re driving at, But he feels you’re missing the mark, idiomwise, and it’s lousing up the old image. That’s why I’ve called this woollybooger. The Topkick wants I should brief you.” “Prithee, do.” “Okay, first things first. In writing like a Texan talks, you’ve got. to be quick on the drawl, as it were. The simplest way to accomplish this is to cool it, g-wise. Rule One: When quoting the Texan, delete the g to form the suffix of the present participle. In other words, make it runnin’, ridin’, ropin’, and like that.” “But don’t all Americans, Texan or not, tend to drop the terminal g?” “That’s a very astute observation, you fink, and right you are. But you’re missing my point. The idea is to convey that the Texan’s speech is distinctive, regionally individuated. Your readers aren’t going to be clinical about your style. Just do it my way and, without analyzing why, they’ll subconsciously conclude that there’s something different about a Texan’s accent. Don’t take my word for it. Look at Tom.” “Tom who?” “Tom magazine, Buddy!” [Laughter] “That’s just my little joke to bring up Rule Two: Always quote the Texan as if he cannot pronounce the long-i sound. Thus, it’s an ah for an I. . . .” “And a tooth for a tooth?” “Knock it . off, Scotty! This is serious. Make it Ah’m for nthand mah for my, and so on. Got it?” “Rot.” “How’s that?” “I said rot. R,i,ght, rot.” Notice on Extra Copies Extra copies of the Observer are 25c each. Please send payment with your order. We will accept stamps on orders of $1.00 or less. Thank you. The Observer “Good show. You’re catching on. Now, there are certain little deft strokes of idiom that you can insert into your quotes rather arbitrarily to Texan them up.” “Can you exemplify?” “Certainly. If Lady Bird, for example, should say in conversation, ‘Really?’ or ‘No kidding?’, you would be wise to render it, ‘Sure enough?’ Or better yet, `Sho nuff?’ That’s solid Texanese.” “Sho nuff ?” “No kidding. And don’t have the President suppose or venture or daresay. Have him reckon. Or reckon as how. Or allow. Or allow as how. These are so Texan, they’re bow-legged.” . “But does the President ever say those things?” “No, but that’s beside the point. The idea is adumbration, not exegesis.” “Huh ?” “Now for vocabulary drill. Any questions on specific words?” “Yeah. What’s exegesis?” “Never mind. Any questions on Texas words?” “What’s a critter?” “Any animal but a horse. Usually intransigent. A balky cow, a coyote, a Republican.” “What’s hanker?” “To crave.” “Would one ever say, For what do you hanker, Chief’?” “Don’t be a wise-o. Any others?” “What’s hunker?” “To rest in a squatting position.” “Let’s knock this off. I’m tuckered, and I hanker to hunker.” “I thought you hankered for a tankard.” “Ah do for a pact. Sho nuff. How yawl? Ypnderways. How come?” “That’s the idea! All it takes is practice. Questions? Splendid. Meeting adjourned.” THE AIDE takes up a guitar and plunks a pertinent refrain. “Where seldom is heard/ A discouraging word . . .” mosey off, hankering 13 Group Subscriptions A message for the special attention of liberal groups or union locals: Subscriptions to the Observer can be bought by groups at a cost of $4 a year, provided ten or more subscrip tions are entered at one time. If you belong to a group that might be in terested in this, perhaps you will want to take the matter up with the others. The reporters vaguely. June 12, 1964