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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Cowboys and Vaqueros Compared
Created by John Eipper on 05/18/21 10:21 AM

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Cowboys and Vaqueros Compared (Richard Hancock, USA, 05/18/21 10:21 am)

To answer John E's question, I will say that cowboys learned most of their skills from vaqueros in the early days of the West. My grandfather W. B. Hancock drove cattle up the great western trail from south Texas to Dodge City, Kansas from 1879 to 1884. He said that about half of the drivers were vaqueros.

The main difference between vaqueros and cowboys was in roping. Vaqueros used 60-foot-long maguey ropes which are very good in catching animals but not strong enough to hold them. Therefore the Mexican vaquero has a large saddle horn which serves as a sort of hitching post.

After he ropes the animal he wraps his rope around the saddle, letting it slide. This is called chorreando la soga. Another vaquero ropes the animal's hind legs, thus throwing him. The cowboy has a thirty-foot manila rope which he ties tightly to his saddle horn. This rope is strong enough to hold almost any size ranch animal. The maquey rope is now used only for trick roping in the US. Nylon ropes have now replaced manila ropes. Plaited leather ropes are popular in Mexico but too expensive for a common vaquero.

Another difference is that bulldogging is common in US rodeos. This skill consists of chasing a 500-pound steer and leaping from your horse to catch the steer by his horns and then throwing him. Bulldogging was invented in Oklahoma by a black cowboy named Bill Pickett.

The Mexican equivalent to this is chasing a steer on horseback, grabbing his tail, rapping it around his stirrup leather, turning his horse and throwing the steer.

JE comments:  I bet none of you knew this!  Much obliged, Richard.  As for Bill Pickett (1870-1932), there's a lot to learn about this pioneering cowboy.  Although retired from the Wild West circuit, he died after being kicked in the head by a bronco.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Pickett


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  • My Ancestor John Charles O'Leary and 19th-Century Oregon, Montana (Patrick Mears, -Germany 05/22/21 4:24 AM)
    I just read with great interest Richard Hancock's wonderful mini-essay on "Cowboys and Vaqueros Compared" (May 18th), just as I am approaching the end of Last Train to Wisdom, the beautiful, final novel written by Montana native, Ivan Doig, and recommended to me by a high-school friend who is now an Arizonian.

    This bittersweet and clever novel addresses the themes of youth, aging, personal loss and the American Wild West, and surprisingly contains more than a dash of German author Karl May and his two famous literary creations, Old Shatterhand and Winnetou. Richard's description of vaqueros and Bill Pickett reminded me immediately of Doig's colorful character in Last Train named Rags Rasmussen, a flashy and eccentric character in his own right who is also the world-champion bronco rider in the novel.


    The volatile mixture of Richard's fascinating post and Ivan Doig's writings triggered some rich memories (gained from books and Ancestry.com-collected documents) about my O'Leary relatives, who migrated en masse to the Wild West in the 19th century. The first such emigration wave was led by County Cork-born, John Charles O'Leary (1832-1920), and Alice Maria Vernon, a New Yorker (1843-1922), and was touched off between 1876 (birth of a daughter in Flint, Michigan) and 1879 (birth of a son in Oregon). Within the last six months, I have been working closely with the resident historian of the Sherman County (Oregon) Museum in the county seat of Moro, Sherry Kaseberg, to ferret out more detail about this branch of my family. This work is being done with the intention of producing an article for the museum's magazine about my O'Leary ancestors in the Wild West, with vintage photos from the museum's collections. Maybe this will approach something like Ulysses, except that the primary character, John Charles, was absolutely nothing like the mild-mannered, long-suffering and soft-spoken Leopold Bloom.


    While I was writing the text of this proposed article, Sherry was kind enough (i) to review on her own time the museum's archives concerning this era, (ii) to collect from those sources documents mentioning my O'Leary family members (of which there are many, including some entries about a relative whom Sherry and I share, much to my great surprise), and (iii) then to forward these articles and extracts to me for my review and integration into the article.


    A few of these contemporary sources that Sherry sent me were newspaper articles from small hamlets in Sherman County like Grass Valley, Rutledge and Wasco, reporting that my great-grand uncle, John Charles O'Leary, had been peppered with buckshot more than once by some farmers, who objected to John's habit of herding his sheep through the farms of these neighbors without their permission, while the sheep foraged on their merry way. As unusual as these events might appear nowadays, they didn't surprise me in the least. From researching John Charles' "colorful" past as a lumberjack and work-gang leader in the Michigan pine forests in the 1850s, I can't imagine him leading his sheep, with mouth muzzles neatly strapped firmly over their jaws, parading single file on the shortest route across farmer's fields. Nor can I envision him asking for permission to do so.


    Some surveyor of Sherman County long ago must have had a strange sense of humor when he named a canyon in Sherman County "O'Leary Canyon" after Uncle John Charles. He also seems to have had, as a "blood-brother" back then, his own version of "Winnetou," who joined the misbehaving Irishman and his family as traveled from Sherman County to the growing town of Big Timber in the Treasure State. John Charles made this final journey of his accompanied by a few of his then-adult children and in the company of George LaHome, a French-Canadian Native American, who eventually settled in the town of Red Lodge, Carbon County, Montana, and where he passed away in 1921.


    JE comments:  Pat, your colorful ancestors never fail to enthrall!  So the cattlemen-sheepmen antagonism is more than the stuff of fiction.  Wikipedia's entry on the Sheep Wars tells of some 54 (human) deaths spread over several Western states beginning in the 1870s.  The sheep suffered in far greater numbers, with as many as 100,000 slaughtered during this time by violent cattle ranchers.


    Sheep Wars - Wikipedia


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  • Cowboy Vernacular and its Spanish Roots (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 05/23/21 3:17 AM)
    Gary Moore writes:

    The Wild West posts by Richard Hancock (May 18) and Patrick Mears (May 22) converge in mysteries of etymology. Richard reminded of the Mexican vaqueros with their maguey ropes, but their name also loops back to the distorted word "buckaroo." I touched on this theme a couple of years ago, but now it bears expanding.


    Similarly with Patrick's Wild West ancestors, we'll hope they weren't ornery galoots (crotchety Gabby Hayes in the B-westerns had a more polyglot vocabulary than we knew, including Irish). Some of the old standard cowboy ballads have puzzling passages, such as in "The Streets of Laredo" with "It's first down to Rosie's and then to the alehouse." Alehouse? It's a borrowed (and then distorted) Irish ditty. Similarly, the mystery words in "Git Along Little Dogie"--"It's your misfortune and none of my own." The original version is said to be a song from Ireland in which a grieving grandfather contemplates his orphaned infant granddaughter after his daughter, the mother, has passed away. But what about the deeper mystery there, the word "dogie" (meaning a motherless calf)? Supposedly the erudite word-wranglers have never been able to calf-rope this one. Patrick, might "dogie" come from Irish?


    In research into nineteenth-century Sonora and Richard's haunts in Chihuahua I came across an epiphany on the word "wrangler." Officially, it's said to date all the way back to 1377 and the German word "wrangeln" meaning to wrestle, and clearly the signs are there. But then the roots of "wrangler" go underground, and suddenly in the nineteenth-century Wild West it pops up as a horse "wrangler," origin unknown. What I came across in the Borderlands was a Spanish word for "horse groom," a word that's a first cousin of "caballero." It's "caballerango." Is this the missing link? Could the Spanish word for "horse" have met the German word for "wrestle"?


    Maybe WAIS can add more words to the following list of Wild West Spanish-Anglo-morphisms:


    calaboose--from "calabozo" meaning "jail"

    hoosegow--from "juzgado" meaning "the place of the judged ones," prison

    vamoose--vamos, vámonos, let's go

    rodeo--the same word in Spanish, referring to enclosure or corral

    buckaroo--vaquero


    Others?


    JE comments:  This Hispanist of nearly forty years somehow never made the buckaroo-vaquero connection.  I did know calaboose and vamoose.  It's strange that the original "o" phoneme mutated into "oo [u]" during the borrowing.


    Ah, memories of "Git Along Little Dogies."  It was a staple number in my elementary-school music class.  We youngsters assumed we were singing endearingly about puppies--"doggies."  Roy Rogers made the song popular in a 1940 recording.

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    • On Little Dogies and the Streets of Laredo (Patrick Mears, -Germany 05/25/21 4:34 AM)
      In response to Gary Moore's question about whether the word "dogie" was derived from the Irish language, it does not appear to have been. An online blog seems to be a correct analysis of the excessive liberty taken by attributing "dogie" to an Irish source. Looking at the word "dothógtha" in my 1977 edition of Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla (Niall Ó Dónaill), there are two English translations given: (a) "Impossible to lift, to rear, to construct," and (b) "Imperturbable."

      I have also heard that the cowboy ballad, "The Streets of Laredo," has Irish origins, and this article from the Financial Times points to these origins, "The Unfortunate Rake": https://ig.ft.com/life-of-a-song/streets-of-laredo.html . See also, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Streets_of_Laredo_(song) .


      When first listening to Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In" years ago, I wondered what a "cayuse" was, later learning that it refers to a Native American pony, probably derived from the tribe of the same name, whose members now primarily reside in Oregon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyNsXDKBWCc (song with vocals).


      JE comments:  The Financial Times piece is ensconced behind a paywall (they get their Financial name honestly), but I include the link for those who can breach it.  As for the etymology of "dogie," I tried the method of serious scholars everywhere:  I Googled it.  Answer:  "origin unknown"--although a number of folk etymologies exist, such as "dough guts" and the Spanish "dogal" (noose).

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    • On the Jook/Juke Joint (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 05/26/21 3:24 AM)
      Gary Moore writes:

      Our moderator puzzled (May 23) at a pattern in old cowboy words that are adapted from Spanish. He asked why a perfectly serviceable and crisp long "o" sound in the original Spanish words would consistently get squashed into a slurring "oo" in English slang biproducts: "vamos" changing to slightly comic "vamoos"; "calabozo" (jail) changing to "calaboose"--and "vaquero" (cowboy) changing to the less dignified-sounding "buckaroo."


      Well, it's happened elsewhere--in a surprisingly different world--and JE, by pinpointing the cowboy variant, has illumined a larger theme that brings the other variant, in its different world, into focus as the smoking gun for a mega-pattern:  a strikingly deep and suggestive pattern:


      In 1933 when Prohibition ended, the old South found its bootleg joints going public, as roadhouses appeared, exiled to the outskirts of towns and negotiating tricky remaining illegality with local options and bribes, or finding jurisdictional limbo like Buford Pusser's State Line Gang. But what to call these newly visible haunts?


      Unnoticed by the North (and by many placid white southerners), Prohibition's advent in 1919 had brought another regional adaptation. In work camps for timber crews (lumbering was bigger than cotton in that green region) and on the plantations themselves, African American laborers received a strange, regionwide exemption from being harassed by Prohibition revenooers. White pragmatists said that if entertainment wasn't provided in the camps the crews would go north (which many did), so it became a given that each isolated workplace would have a secluded, weather-beaten dancehall, exempt from federal law, so to speak, but patrons must be only African American--on the shrugging theory made infamous by one of the Godfather dons, who said they didn't have souls to lose anyway. But, morality aside, what to call these nightspots?


      At some point during Prohibition, the word "jook" became universal across the South, as the handy colloquial name of the legal-illegal camp dancehalls. The word had much older roots, in a constellation of Afro-English words like "joog" (to stab or poke), but it was finally untraceable to a single conclusive origin in Africa, though many have tried. The camp dancehalls that were restricted to African Americans were always called "jooks," pronounced like "hook" or "crook," and never "jukes" as in "fluke" or "kook."


      But then came 1933. The white roadhouses publicly appeared. At some point they began to be called "juke joints"--borrowing the name of the older black establishments, but changing the pronunciation slightly, never pronouncing the "oo" as in "book" or "look" (the original form), but affecting a sort of distancing, by flattening and slurring the "oo"--as if to say: "This other world I'm borrowing from has its enticing ways, which I want to participate in--but listen, Pal, I'm not really like them. Actually I'm sort of laughing at them (or maybe I'm releasing an embarrassed chuckle at my own ambivalence and clumsiness, straddling two cultures").


      The process for white sanitizing of "jook" seemed already to have begun by the late 1920s. Every camp jook in those days had some sort of music, which might come from a battered piano--a "jook box" (as Zora Hurston found). Peddlers of lease deals for the new coin-operated alternative were going around to the camps by 1930. Here, too, the original word slid down into a bemused slur, turning a crisp vowel into a faint note of sarcasm, almost ridicule.


      Our moderator has pointed to a linguistic door opening onto the vastness of American sensibility: the melting pot sensibility, with its ironies of diversity and adaptation.  And perhaps the defensive mechanisms that come with being the adventurer--or the adventurous culture--that is drawn to make new worlds.


      JE comments:  Gary, you've drawn a fascinating connection between historical phonology and the politics of race in the United States.  The jook/juke example reminds me of the offensive race categories "quadroon" and "octoroon," which were elevated to legal status during the Jim Crow era.  Their Spanish origins (cuarterón and octorón) underwent the same O to U shift we've been discussing.


      Your eloquence above inspires a reflection:  I often find myself releasing an embarrassed chuckle at my own ambivalence and clumsiness... (!)  

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      • The "OO-Squashing" Tic (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 05/27/21 3:52 PM)

        Gary Moore writes:



        Wow, JE has added (May 26) yet further examples of what might be called the Great American Ethnic Interface "OO"-Squashing Tic (changing an original high-oo sound to a slightly more comic low "oo" sound in ethnic loan words like "buckaroo" or "juke").


        This might not exactly evoke a Wow from many people, but the "'OO'-Squashing Tic" (I'm open to a better name) is a magnificently concrete, visible marker on what is otherwise hidden in people's heads: a mainstream nervousness or distancing tendency when confronting lower-status subcultures in the melting pot. Are they intriguing? Are they unsettling? How does one adapt to the mixed signals?


        I didn't know until John pointed it out that the old slave-culture words "quadroon" and "octoroon" come from Spanish, and hence have had their original "o" sounds flattened to "oo" in ambivalent English. But perhaps the mystifying quintessence of ethnic ambivalence was the bygone theatrical culture called minstrelsy, now viewed as blackface barbarism, but for much of a century called America's leading form of popular music. (George Gershwin's single biggest-selling hit, "Swanee" in 1919, was set in lingering minstrelsy.)


        Like most people today, I'm a bit too unnerved by blackface theater's smarmy ridicule to have looked very closely at its vocabulary, but some "oo"-squashings may be in there. And one oo-word that was standard in minstrelsy didn't have to be borrowed from another language (unless you count distant Algonquian). Complete with a pre-packaged "oo," the minstrel hit "Zip Coon" may have been the force behind a later racial epithet. Arcane? Somewhere in every American's brain is a fragment of the jittering old nonsense tune "Turkey in the Straw." Its original words were: "Possum up a gum tree, coonie on a stump..." Sung incessantly in blackface by grinning white performers marking the mystifying divide, this was "Zip Coon."


        JE comments:  Nothing like squashing an OO, Gary!  I just boned up on Al Jolson, who popularized Gershwin's "Swanee."  How many knew that Jolson (birth name, Asa Yoelson) was born in the Russian Empire, in modern-day Lithuania?  There's something profound, and profoundly disturbing for today's sensibilities, that a Russian Jew would become the "King of Blackface."  Only in America?

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        • Memories of an Old Victrola, Owl Jolson (Patrick Mears, -Germany 05/28/21 3:26 AM)
          I very much enjoyed reading Gary Moore's recent post about American music and its vocabulary, as well as John E's mention of Al Jolson.

          Back in my childhood in the 1950s, we had in our garage an ancient Victrola record player from probably the early part of the 20th century. The player was powered by a hand crank and the metal stylus, which was disposable, would be inserted into a metal tone arm, and then the arm placed upon a thick, black record made of shellac. The music on the record could then be mechanically played by tripping a switch near the turntable. As the power ran down, one could crank up the machinery again. We had a number of these thick records in the wooden cabinet on which the turntable was placed, including recordings ranging from Sophie Tucker to Al Jolson and to the Irish Tenor, John McCormack.


          Listening to the Jolson recordings from the 1910s and 1920s made me one of his "posthumous fans." Aided by that start, I then monitored the weekend films broadcast on local television to find broadcasts of the 1946 Hollywood film, The Jolson Story, starring Larry Parks as Jolson, and I also sought out and bought sheet music for many Jolson classics, ranging from "Swanee" to "Mammy" and then on to "How You Gonna Keep ‘Em Down on the Farm," all of which I would (try to) play on my trumpet.


          Jolson was also cleverly caricatured in a cartoon from the 1930s, in which the character, "Owl Jolson," performs a Jolson standard, "I Love to Sing-a," in a radio contest hosted by "Jack Bunny." Here is a link to the song from the cartoon, for your enjoyment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X60jBqWiZPk . Also on You Tube is a performance of this song sung by Jolson to the accompaniment of Cab Calloway and his Orchestra from the 1936 film, The Singing Kid.


          Gary's post, in which he discusses minstrelsy, caused me to pull out from my bookshelf an autobiography of the famous music publisher, Edward B. Marks, titled They All Sang: From Tony Pastor to Rudy Vallée, which had been released in 1934. It is a book that belonged to my mother, probably from her Ann Arbor/Detroit days, and contains Marks' story of his involvement in the music industry up to that time and also relates a history of American popular music, from minstrelsy to the music of the 1930s. The book contains a fascinating, first-person look into the development of the music publishing industry in America. The stories of how popular songs were marketed in the 1880s and the Gay Ninteties is eye-opening: Marks and others in the business, then based primarily in Lower Manhattan, would travel from nightclub to nightclub along the Bowery and on 14th Street offering sheet music for songs recently released by their publishing houses to the owners of the clubs, along with permission to perform the songs in front of club customers. If the music was then well received, the word would spread in this early entertainment district. From there, the music's positive reception would then spread through the United States, thereby stimulating sales of sheet music.


          There is a very good summary of the personal history and career of Edward P. Marks and his publishing house on the house's website, which can be accessed here: http://www.ebmarks.com/about/ . I found this passage appealing, which describes the fresh ideas about South American and other foreign music injected into the house's business by Herbert Marks, son of the founder:


          "Herbert Marks, the son of Edward who took over the company in 1945 upon his father's death, helped spark the craze in this country for Latin music in the 1920s when he honeymooned in Havana and fell under the spell of such writers as Moises Simons and especially Ernesto Lecuona, the composer of such classics as "Andalucia" (aka "The Breeze and I") and "Malaguena." The Marks international catalog has also imported hits from South America ("El Condor Pasa"), Mexico ("Yellow Days"), France (Jacques Brel and "If You Go Away"), Cuba ("Cecilia Valdes"), and Italy ("More," "Mah-Na-Mah-Na")."


          N.B. Moisés Simons, mentioned in the quote above, was a famous Cuban composer and musician, who is responsible for creating the gem, "El Manisero" (The Peanut Vendor), among others. Here is a link to an early, orchestral recording of "El Manisero" along with its lyrics (in Spanish). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sj7NfrrnaKE . Here is the same piece, this time sung by Rita Montaner. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUElr_1D038 . Enjoy these images and sounds of a world that has since disappeared.


          JE comments:  Thanks, Pat, for bringing up "El Manisero," possibly the most iconic Cuban song ever, and certainly one of my favorites.  Also, it's extraordinary that Edward B Marks is still in business selling sheet music.  (To be sure, the company has been under different ownership over the decades.)

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        • Boohoo, Yankee Doodle: A Further Treatise on "OO" (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 06/18/21 4:13 AM)
          Gary Moore writes:

          The telltale American tic I've called "oo-squashing" (May 23, 26 and 27) has unlocked further doors.


          This tic, squirreled away at the interface of etymology and ethnocentrism (as WAISers not yet rolling their eyes in distraction may recall) appears to be a cultural habit in US language history. The "oo-squashing tic" takes foreign loan words and half-accepts them, after a special kind of alteration, like a stamp in the word's English reincarnation passport. And this alteration imparts a faint, ambivalent whiff of ridicule.


          The process seems to say: "Them furrin ways do look mighty temptin' sometimes, but I ain't a-gonna walk too fur into that there funny business. I'm a-gonna keep makin' fun of ‘em even if I sorta like ‘em." The stamp that conveys this--or at least seems to me to convey it--is the "oo" sound. In certain borrowed words it is inserted as a replacement for part of the original, giving the new hybrid a hint of sarcasm--though mixed disarmingly with a slight dash of humility and self-deprecation, as the razzle-dazzled cross-cultural traveler confesses disorientation, and concedes a frustrated inability to crisply pronounce the foreign jawbreaker.


          I've mentioned the conversion of "vaquero" (Mexico's stoic, astute cowboys of old) into "buckaroo" (a word somehow ever-so-slightly doltish, just on its face). And the old Jim Crow "jooks" (fleshpots for African Americans) bequeathed a word derived untraceably from Africa to the somewhat sanitized, oo-squashed, post-Prohibition "juke joints" (fleshpots for whites). John E also contributed the slave-era squashing of the words "octorón" and "cuadrón" (Spanish racial typing), which were squashed into English as "octoroon" and "quadroon." It would be hard to prove that these "oo" sounds, wedged into American English usage, make the resulting words interestingly more distanced--like a bug held out squeamishly on a pin--but as it turns out, oo-squashing is older than US usage.


          As the Middle Ages rolled into the Renaissance (some people put the divider at Columbus, in a day when he thought it quite normal to catch slaves), the kingdom of England, still not Great Britain, was not exactly a European upstart (it had conquered France and occupied Paris in the Hundred Years War), but in the first glimmers of the modern age England was dwarfed by consolidating power on the continent, where soon the Habsburg king of Spain spoke more Flemish than Spanish, controlled central Europe, and rolled his eyes at English barbarism. His nemesis the king of France also had grown mighty. As Elizabethan England squeaked by the Spanish armada in the storm of 1588, the feisty, underdog English, not yet ruling the waves or vast colonies, found themselves absorbing a flood of sophisticated foreign terminology. A period from roughly the 1400s into the 1700s produced a sub-category of defensive oo-squashings, a pattern so distinct that today it has its own Web page, elegantly titled simply "oon-."


          As new words came into English from French, Italian, or Spanish, their pesky foreign pronunciations were chopped a bit. And they received their customs stamp, especially if their originals ended in "n." The "oo" + "n" squashing, a variant of what I'm talking about, formed a waystation en route to today's broader category. The two examples from John E's scholarship-"octoroon" and "quadroon"-turn out to be rooted in a brood of other semi-xenophobic launderings: doblón: doubloon; dragon: dragoon (their guns breathed fire); harpon: harpoon; lacuna, laguna, lagune: lagoon; lampons: lampoon; palone: balloon; carton, cartone: cartoon; coque, cocon: cocoon. And on and on. Less lasting were the scoundrely English borrowed words "poltroon" (from poltron, poltrone) and "picaroon" (from picaron, though the root has survived, oo-lessly, in "picaresque"),


          But why "oo"? Why that particular sort of customs stamp to tame and mildly poke fun at alien intrusions? As Neil Simon said of vaudeville, the old cards knew that some sounds are just naturally funny. Simon didn't dig as deeply as the diphthongs, but focused more easily on a comic consonant, the sound of the letter "k." "Words with ‘k' in them are funny." Cue curtain: "Two ducks were sitting in a pond. One of the ducks said ‘Quack.' The other duck said, ‘I was going to say that.'"


          Ka-boomp! Anyone can see that something in "oo"-with its low-slung, sluggish vocal positioning-can take a slightly derisive turn, less brightly than "k." Just a wrinkling of the nose is enough for "ooh," by itself, to become a missile of scorn, no other sounds required. The murky outlines of a deprecating genre begin to appear: ooze, booze, hootch, floozy, froo-froo, goop, goosey, fool, drool, palooka, kook, boodle, loot, cuckoo, looney, poop, droop--oops--and no few lewd crude nude words, referring to anatomy. Not to mention buffoon and baboon-more classic "+n" oo-squashings.


          Obviously, "oo" is not always a spoiler (there's happy moon-June-spoon, after all), but the loose, oozy lair of this sound, in the palatal basement of vocalization, seems to invite a little woozy disinhibition. In 1947 when Alan J. Lerner wrote the book for a smash-hit Lerner and Lowe musical, he was certainly not searching for a title word that was negative, but he did want an air of foggiiy alien mystery. Thus he found the name, sort of pre-squashed, of a Bridge over the Scottish river Doon. Ka-boomp! ("She prophesied, that, late or soon, / Thou would be found deep drown'd in Doon"). Celtic heritage tends to pre-empt oo-squashing with its older music. Anglicization didn't have to squash very far on O Ruanaidh and Ó Maoldúin, to produce Rooney and Muldoon.


          But to return to the march of history: The self-confident, though slightly insular English outlook soon was adventuring into a whole New World, and into its farthest western boondocks, where the rigors bid fair to a little rootin'-tootin', shootin', hootin' disinhibition. And waiting for that moment was a foreign word of bon vivant hauteur--but just a mite too high-falutin. Thus, the galoots could soon guffaw at the high-brow pretensions of the French salon, while enjoying it as the saloon. They shore 'nuff did hanker after a little of that racy French action--but not too much of it now, not enough to dangerously carry that mincing, foppish Frenchy taint. So it had to be distanced a bit, or squashed. Prudish linguists still marvel at a kindred word born right along with the saloon. They puzzle that it seems to have come out of nowhere, with no antecedents at all--except just "spit"--which element was quarantined by the saloonkeepers in those fancy, Frenchified brass urns. The age-old, tobacco-chaw spit-box had become the spittoon.


          Other suspicious foreign "oo's" in that world-like "chop suey" and "coolie"-turn out not to have been squashings, but faithfully carried their "oo" sounds from older roots-in Cantonese, Hindi, and Urdu--though perhaps, in a crude new milieu, they survived because a hint of chuckly distancing was built-in. In the Korean War, GIs (if cluelessly rude) didn't have to invent their distancing epithet, for they could look at the name of the entire pensinsula: Han-Gook. It just sounded right. It said "ooh."


          World World War II found scorn aimed at "hurry up and wait" logistics, thus inventing a masterful oo-cronym: "snafu." But post-millennially this has been surpassed, in platoon lampoons, by the genius act of replacing "snafu" with not one but two oo's, gruesomely fused (you know this one, involving that poor traduced pooch).


          By definition, any culture's monster tales, for gloomy children or goosey adults, are going to be the soul of distancing. Nobody identifies with the boogeyman. But where did he come from? Cue now not the vaudeville snickers but the lurid, lugubrious "woooooo" of the ghouls. The Celtic "bogle" is the most probable ancestor, suitably squashed into "oo." But the bogle may have to share the honor. Some see "boogeyman" as an oo-squashed legacy of the Bogomil heresy from Bosnia, sweeping southern Europe before 1200. Some see nineteenth-century influence from seafaring tales of the feared Bugi, or Buginese pirates in Indonesia. Bedtime stories don't take many notes. But they know when the wind does that thing from the dark: oooooooo. The b-words spookily born of this show a tantalizing hierarchy. At the top of the palatal arch, most punchily pronounced, the "oo" rises to a short "u" in the lewd taboo of "bugger." But loosening a bit, it can fall toward mid-position--still not the lowest, flattest, fattest "oo," but rather the tauter variant, the short-oo sound of look-book-cook-which is seemingly most people's way of pronouncing "boogeyman." However, in some uncertain users, perhaps ambivalent amidst the tombs, pronunciation seems to fall farther, into the classic squash, squashing the b-taboo progression into its lowest, slowest, most alienating variant: "boo-geyman" (pronounced as in boohoo, not as in crook). Is such a slip a fumbling poker tell, an inadvertent confession of suppressed anxiety? Some might say, indeed, that major features of the entire Southern Drawl are such a tell, disowning an ambivalence toward tricky, snappy, snippy Yankee intrusion.


          Whiles glowrin round wi' prudent cares,


          Lest bogles catch him unawares.


          But in American history, perhaps the oo-prize should go to a piece of fabulously complex nonsense that has puzzled every schoolchild forced to hear it. Such hearers rarely know about the world-scale Seven Years' War of 1756-1763, but they know its bi-product, the American Revolution. Britain had defended the colonies in the French and Indian War, this continent's name for the Seven Years' War's offshoot, and a push for recompense taxation was only one of the frictions. As redcoats and colonials fought as allies in the pre-revolutionary French and Indian War, British troops had a way of making fun of the sometimes ragged or less disciplined locals--a form of snide distancing-steeped in slang. These same troops were also not great fans of a storied fixture in Britain in those days, the young fop who would affect exaggerated fashions, coming home from a continental tour or two dripping with pretensions, such as eating foreign food--such as Italian macaroni. (Is the oo-word lurking here now looming more lucidly?) The eating fashions then came to extend to the labeling of exaggerated wigs worn in such circles, also called macaroni.


          Thus we got the little song, tossed at backwoodsmen in the next tent and scarcely as a badge of patriotism, though somehow the coming fires of revolution would turn it around. Cultural borrowings were everywhere in a dawning nation, with ambivalent defenses squashed in. Naturally, when the French and Indian War redcoats were embracing a little ditty to razz the rednecks, there was resort to the great grab bag of derisive oo-sounds-where a natural candidate was "fool." But...nah. A little too blunt? A little too obvious and uncreative? Instead, the unsung songsmiths (or a British army surgeon, according to the credits) chose an oo-synonym for fool, one that was well known in the age of periwigs: the word "doodle." They didn't even put the resulting foolish doodle on a real horse, but on a runty little pony. Yet he thought of himself as quite the fine fop of a fellow, complete with continental culinary compunctions: the veritable Yankee Doodle Dandy.


          Maybe it's merciful not to explain this to schoolchildren. The dance of distancing and defensiveness is just too durned complex. What peeks out of the chaos, in the end, is that goofy, spoofy "oo."


          JE comments:   No better time to discuss the "oo-squash" than the month of Joon!  I should have waited until noon to publish this, however...


          Gary, you've sent a masterpiece of a language essay, worthy of the late Bill Safire.  One postscript deserving further exploration:  the US vernacular distinction between boo/ooo, the scary ghost sound, and the slightly different, almost Frenchified interjection ewww, used to denote revulsion.  Might the recently cancelled, doubly insensitive Pepe Le Pew have an odorous hand in this?

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