“Words are but pictures of our thoughts.” –John Dryden (1631-1700) English poet, literary critic, and playwright
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“Hotter than a road lizard.” That’s the words my buddy Oscar up in Mount Pleasant would have used to describe days like some that we’ve already experienced during this young summer of the craziest year I can remember. I did remember the saying last week though and throwing it into the old-timer’s coffee conversation launched a litany of sage sayings illustrating how well a blend of humor and vivid imagery can get the point across.
“You can tell it’s been hot” one member of the group offered, “Some of these people on the news have been out in the heat so long they’ve got crazy doing a land-office business. But at least we’ve been gettin’ some rain here. I remember summers when the catfish in Toledo Bend carried canteens and my ducks forgot how to swim.”
“Here we are griping about the heat,” offered another, “but y’all know we’ll still be complaining this winter when the weather is colder n’ an ex-wife’s heart.”
“That’s pretty cold,” I said, “and don’t believe I’ve heard that one.” As one who appreciates witty words as much as anyone else, the fact that I had not heard that saying at all, or the one about road lizards since relocating to Center from Mount Pleasant some 40 years ago, served to remind me that the use of certain words and sayings tend to be regional.
Right after I arrived in Shelby County, a caller looking for a fellow employee one morning commented, “That old boy sure is hard to get up with.” Agreeing with the caller, I replied, “Yes sir, he doesn’t appear to be an early riser.” It was not until sometime later I learned that “getting up with” someone in this area meant they were hard to get in touch with, not a comment on what time they got out of bed. Despite all my years as a native Texan, obtaining a Texas college education and attending countless county fairs and hog callings, I had never heard that saying outside of Shelby County.
While working on that East Texas State University college education, a book written by one of my English professors turned me on to a lifetime of loving words and their varied uses. “From Blinky to Blue-John: A Word Atlas of Northeast Texas” by Fred Tarpley was the result of the author’s research across East Texas to determine that it was often possible to pinpoint simply by their peculiar use of certain words, sometimes right down to which county, where a person had spent the majority of their life. The title was derived from just one of the many examples, the word “blinky.” Most of us have used “blinky” at one time or another to describe milk. But how many of us knew that in some parts of East Texas, blinky means milk not yet soured, but not tasting as good as fresh milk, while in other places blinky labels milk that is no longer fit for consumption: just plain old “soured milk.”
Vowing to reference Tarpley’s book to see if any of these gems from last week fit within regional references, I jokingly questioned the group about where that last one about chilly weather came from. My doubt was instantly answered with, “If I tell you a mosquito can pull a plow, you better hitch him up.”
With that one, I surrendered. “Gotta go guys. I’m off to a great start this morning, but I’ll leave you with the best new old saying I’ve heard this year, one I am sure everyone can take to the bank. If anything goes crazy stupid wrong before the day’s over, I’ll just shake my head and say, ‘well that one sure went 2020 on me.’”
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