Thursday, December 31, 2009

Do You Speak Texan?

I graduated college, much to my profound amazement, with a Bachelor of Arts degree double majoring in History and Anthropology. This was after going through brief dalliances majoring in art and engineering with a much longer stay in the “I can’t figure out what I want to be when I grow up” major. Now that I think about it, it’s probably more accurate to say I never really got out of that particular major. I now work in the insurance industry as a commercial auto and general liability claims adjuster handling high exposure and litigated claims. Go figure. Poster child for academic counseling and career planning I am not.

I’m not complaining about my education. Believe it or not, it has been very helpful to my chosen line of work. Majoring in history taught me how to analyze what happened and draw intelligent conclusions about the ramifications of those events. Majoring in Anthropology taught me that not everyone is a WASP and also how a white bread from the suburbs like me can gain valuable information about different groups and cultures by observation and examination.

One of my favorite subjects in college was cultural anthropology, and I was fortunate to have some interesting professors. One in particular was a former Catholic priest who left the priesthood to marry a nun. And Ricky thought Lucy had some ‘splainin’ to do. I just hope I’m in line behind him when he gets his chance to speak with The Big Boss. I have got to hear that conversation. I imagine it would be something like this:

God: So, you were a priest in the Catholic Church, correct?

Professor B.: Yes, for a time.

God: For a time? Did you not enjoy your work? MY work?

Professor B.: No, no, no. I loved the work. However, I kinda wanted a family. So, I left the priesthood to get married.

God: Hmmm. I see. Who was the lucky woman?

Professor B.: A nun.

God: Interesting. Fishing off the company pier were we?

Professor B.: I suppose You could call it that.

God: I think I just did. You do realize there is nothing in the Bible requiring the priesthood to remain celibate don’t you?

Professor B.: Um…no. They must have skipped that one in seminary.

God: Seems like they skip more and more every year.…. Hmpf. Papal infallibility My bushy eyebrows. Makes Me laugh every time one of them shoots their mouth off.

Professor B.: Can I go now?

God: No. We’re just getting started. I haven’t even gotten to the Andean mountain religion thing or the coca leaves.

Professor B.: Uh-oh.

This particular professor brought a guest speaker into class on one occasion that stands out in my mind. I don’t recall the speaker’s name, but I do recall what he spoke about. He spoke about the theory of “language windows”. Basically, the theory is that any given culture can be better understood by the manner in which that culture’s language shapes its people’s outlook on life, relationships, etc. He used his study of one of the Arabic/Middle Eastern languages as an example to illustrate how it works. There was a greeting in which you said whatever you said verbally in greeting while covering your eye and bowing slightly. Apparently, the literal translation of the greeting is something along the lines of “I step on my eye for you.” I’m not sure what window those folks were lookin’ out of; however, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to see that particular view. Especially if they’ve been walkin’ around in my backyard canine poo garden.

What brings this story to mind is the ongoing difference of opinion that exists between The Queen and me regarding linguistic matters. I was born and raised in the great state of Texas, and its imprint has been irrevocably left on me and my linguistic capabilities. The Queen, on the other hand, was born in California and mostly raised elsewhere (including Texas much to her dismay). Given her exposure to more “civilized” parts of the world during her formative years, The Queen’s delicate ears are sometimes offended by my occasional lapses into the more comfortable colloquial speech patterns of my native tongue.

So, as a public service, I thought I would take this opportunity to give a brief insider’s guide for outsider’s to words and phrases common to Texas’ unique window on the world.

1) “A cat can have kittens in the oven, but it don’t make ‘em biscuits.” This is polite way of saying to someone who was technically born in the state that, just because you were born here, it don’t automatically make you a Texan. Thanks to a thriving economy, favorable tax laws, a reasonable housing prices, Texas has become the Mecca for snot nosed, ingrate foreigners from other parts. That includes folks from Oklahoma and other points further north, east or west. We won’t talk about points further south. I’m trying to work on being politically correct… I mean being more diverse and inclusive. Yeah, right.

2) “That boy/girl ain’t right.” and/or “He/she’s touched in the head.” This one should be fairly self explanatory. These two phrases generally apply to someone who, while otherwise being free of mental retardation or severe autism, is exhibiting strange and/or abnormal behavior.

3) “He needed killin’.” This one is most often heard during arraignment in criminal court proceedings and is generally considered to be a valid defense to homicide.

4) “Sweet or unsweet?” In most non-chain restaurants in Texas, your waiter/waitress will ask you this question. They are not making a pass at you or making a comment about your child’s behavior. They just want to know if you want your iced tea pre-sweetened or if you plan on doctorin’ your own.

5) “Pee-can” vs. “puh-kahn”. This is a pronunciation issue regarding our beloved state nut, the pecan, which is still the subject of considerable debate between people hailing from different parts of the state. Whichever one you chose, just know you are annoying the stuffin’ out of the other half of the population.

6) “Soda vs. Pop vs. Coke”. If you want to be immediately branded as an unwashed heathen from out of state, please, by all means, ask for or offer someone a Pop. Soda is barely acceptable but may get you funny looks in certain small town establishments. Coke is the preferred moniker used to request and/or offer a soft drink regardless of brand. Brand preference is determined by the follow up question: “What flavor?”

7) “I’m fixin’ to….”. Simply put, it means someone is about to do something. Exactly when the something will take place is generally a little fuzzy and greatly depends on the past performance of the speaker. Get over it. Or duck if this phrase was preceded by the words “Hey, watch this.”

8) “Howdy, hi-dee, etc.”. Most everyone has a grasp on Howdy. It’s short for “how do you do?” or “how are you doin’?” “Hi-dee” is a little used variation of “howdy” which my grandmother used and which I prefer personally.

9) “Y’all”. This is the correct contraction of “You all”. It can refer to one person or a group of people. Some individuals are just a plurality all in themselves.

10) “Bless your heart…”. If you somehow manage to find yourself in the midst of a tragic comedy of your own creation or otherwise succeed in surviving doing something incredibly stupid, you will most likely hear these words spoken to you. Usually by emergency room personnel or claims adjusters. And your mother, grandmother, aunt and any other distant female relatives who find out about your spectacular screw up. Frequently used in conjunction with “That boy ain’t right.” It can also be used as a sincere expression of sympathy in certain circumstances. Context is everything.

11) “Over (t’) yonder”, “a little ways”, and other measures of distance. Texas is a big a** state. El Paso is closer to L.A. than it is to Beaumont. People from elsewhere just plain don’t get it. Not too long ago, my boss in Chicago suggested I drive from Dallas to Houston for a half day meeting returning the same day. I found that amusing. Most people will give long distance directions in terms or driving times in minutes or hours rather than miles. Driving across town in the DFW area can be 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending on traffic. Dallas to Houston is about 4 hours. For shorter distances, you can use “over yonder” or “a little ways”. They basically mean your destination is further than you’d really want to walk but you don’t need to top of the gas tank or make a bathroom stop before you leave.

I sincerely hope this helps those of you who have wondered about some of these words or phrases. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m fixin’ to go to bed so I can head over yonder to the Home Depot first thing in the mornin’ fer some more plumbin’ supplies to get the Queen’s shower built. Bless her heart.


  1. Texan sounds an awful lot like just plain' Southern. My great grandma hailed from Oklahoma and I was raised with all but "bless yer heart." Not that I'd really consider Oklahoma southern. Maybe y'alls language is just creepin' up North.

  2. GunDiva, you would be at least partially correct. While we are sometimes loathe to admit it, Texas does owe quite a bit of its heritage to folks throughout the south who were the main source of the early colonials. My personal favorite is Davy Crockett who said: "Y'all can go to Hell. I'm goin' to Texas." Having said that, there is also that peculiar "further south" influence here in Texas which we are also sometimes loathe to talk about.

  3. Lived in San Saba, Texas the Pecan Capitol of the World. It's Puh-KAHN. No other way to pronounce it.

  4. SUT, while I personally agree with you, I have known more than a few folks from east Texas who have a different opinion on that subject. Like I said, they just know they annoy the rest of us.

  5. There's a fairly recent country song that I keep hearing on the radio where the guy pronounces pecan as PEE CAN. I want to smack him every time I hear him say that and tell him, "No, a PEE CAN is something my grandpa relieved himself in."

    Which is why I should be banned from all Zac Brown concerts.

    Chicken Fried Song:

  6. SUT, I could have done without the link to the Zac Brown song. I have to listen to that everytime my wife calls her best friend (who uses that song as her ringtone for those calling her cellphone). Your granddad was much more high class than mine was. Mine would just stop on the side of the road and let fly. 'Course we are talkin' about dirt roads in the sticks outside the bustling metropolis of Muldoon, TX. But, you are absolutely right, there is something seriously wrong with those who use the "Pee-Can" pronunciation. And they are usually very perky about the way they say it too.

  7. My whole life I pronounced it puh-KAHN until I was corrected by some damn (apparently eastern) Texan that it was Pee-Can. Can't y'all just come up with a common pronunciation?

  8. GunDiva, just be thankful I didn't get into the Spanish influence on pronunciation. It always tickles me when foreigners try to pronounce Bexar (which is the county where San Antonio is located) or Mexia (which is the little town where Anna Nicole Smith is from). They're pronounced "bear" and "muh-hey-uh" in case your interested.

  9. Again, I'm amazed at your ability to string so many words together in Tex-ease. A couple of corrections come to mind. Instead of "posture child" don't you mean "poster child"? My favorite Texas lingo is one I use often: "nother-other". Truly, it should be in Webster's. MIMI

  10. Mom, thanks for pointing out the typo. Since it was, in fact, a correctly spelled (albeit incorrect) word, spell check didn't catch it. Neither did my repeatedly efforts at editing. Sometimes you just need another pair of eyes. "Nother-other" is a good one, but your saying which tickles me the most is: "Which woud you prefer?"


I am not easily offended. Please feel free to express your opinions: good, bad or indifferent. Basically, the "Golden Rule" applies. You get what you give. Treat others like trash here, and your comments will be trashed accordingly. Rudeness and vulgarity will not be tolerated.