By Lynn Moncus: Comments From the Canyon
While playing the game of “publish or perish” for all too many years, guess who was always on the cutting edge of vanishing? Well, this woman from Ima had been hired to teach and had no spare time to research some esoteric, uninteresting subject to try to have printed in a journal to be read only by desperate, harried people, who probably should have perished before trying to publish.
Such a game tended to make me go “country” at the most inopportune times and to avoid getting a raise once again. For some reason, one department head failed to appreciate a very scholarly essay written about the importance of cow chips in the settling of the Southwest. He even became less free with a raise when I presented the essay to him with a beautiful, gilded cow chip to illustrate one of the many uses. I still earned enough money to buy beans and enjoyed one more lecture for getting nothing published.
Of course, I continue speak “country” and often include the appropriate vocabulary in many of my letters, only to have to define them later so the reader will know what I was writing about. Recently, for instance, I explained that all the “borry” ditches were filled with water and received a long-distance call to ask what I was talking about. That sent me in search of the variant spellings so I could write one more scholarly paragraph. Most of us refer to “bar” ditches, but the first spelling was “borrow,” meaning the pits or ditches beside roads from which dirt was borrowed to build the roads.
“Barrow” ditches were also mentioned because much of the early road work was done by using wheel barrows to borrow the dirt. Because many early settlers pronounced “barrow” as “borrow” we sound up shortening that word more frequently than either of the others.
Because I have been out taking pictures of cattle, I bothered to refer to one cow as “sooky” and received another call. As any country person knows, cowboys used to call their cattle by yelling, “here, sooky, sooky,” just as the feeders of chickens used to call, “here chick, chick.” In my childhood, I frequently referred to the milk cow as “Sookey” when I was angry because she and kicked over the milk bucket one more time and because the names I was thinking weren’t utterable when I made my report to my parents.
Unless you don’t want to have to explain what you mean when you tell someone it is time to hit the “soogans,” just tell them it is bed time. Many of us grew up knowing about “soogans” or “sugans,” but late-comes weren’t reared in the country. Of course, a “soogan” is a heavy quilt, similar to a comforter, but pieces with any heavy scraps of material available at the time and not made for beauty but for warmth because they were heavier than some of our blankets and most of our other quilts.
Although playing with such works didn’t get me any farther
than the gilded cow chip, I always had fun using them when some colleague would begin to pontificate about his latest discovery while counting all the commas used in Milton’s “Paradise Lost.” Naturally, I still have fun with words and can even use real two-bit ones if people try to show off their vocabularies a little too much. When all else fails, speak “country,” but don’t count on getting a raise!