02 January 2007

Cowboy Lingo

I have purchased a new book written in 1936 titled Cowboy Lingo. It is a comprehensive listing, a real time capsule, of cowboy colloquialisms of the time. Some of them are still relevant today. I think the thing that made me laugh was how much the description applied not only to cowboys, but also to the infantry boys I know. See what you think. Anywhere it says cowboys I like to change the word to infantry or Army (though I'm sure it applies to other branches and MOS', as well).

Always in the presence of new features of life and divorced as he was obliged to be from the older traditions of a settled life, in speech, as in other activities, he broke through the restraint imposed by established usage and created a language of his own... There is always one thing that stamps a man for what he is and that is his speech. The basic reason for the difference between the cowboy and other men rests on an individual liberty, ... an accepting of his own standards alone.

... The cowboy was not a highly educated man as a rule, but he never lacked for expression. Perhaps there was pungency and directness about his speech that seemed novel and strange to conventional people, but no one could accuse him of being bore some. ... His peculiar directness of phrase meant freedom from restraint, either of society or convention. He respected neither the dictionary nor usage, but employed his words in the manner that best suited him and arranged them in a sequence that best expressed his idea. He was of a strong young race which laid firm hands on language and squeezed juice from it.

... With a keen sense of humor that took unexpected slants ... the cowboy seemed to express himself more freely with a slang which strengthened rather than weakened his speech. ... In dealing with the cowboy’s lingo, mention should be made of his profanity. His blasphemy, however appalling as it is, had it's foundation on arbitrarily created custom and not from any wish to be wicked. Many of his expressions, while sacrilegious on the tongues of others were but slang when used by him. The common use of the name of the Deity was with no intention of reviling God. ... Words could be an insult or term of affection, according to the tone which they were spoken. Therefore, men frequently were endearingly addressed with seeming curses and apparently scourging epithets.

His swearing was to no small extent a purely conventional exhibition of very human and boy like desire to blow off steam but it became so habitual that, though most cowboys endeavored to refrain it when in the presence of a decent women, few of them were able to keep the lid on the can of cuss words.

To observe a riot of imagination turned loose with the bridle off, on e must hear a burst of anger on the part of on e of these men. It would be mostly unprintable, but you would get an entirely new idea of what profanity means. The most obscure, remote, and unheard-of conceptions would be dragged forth from earth, heaven, and hell and linked together in a sequence so original, so gaudy, and so utterly blasphemous that you would gasp and be stricken with admiration. ...