"Long, Tall Texan"

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Thu Dec 2 02:29:42 UTC 2004

On Dec 1, 2004, at 7:44 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:

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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "Long, Tall Texan"
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> Wilson, I take it that "everybody" includes your elders?  Your
> recollection (once again)
> is important because the phrase doesn't appear in print till John A.
> Williams used it about 1960.

You're talking about "fuck over," right? Yes, I am including my elders.
It's one of those expressions that everybody black knows and uses. I
have no memory as to when I first heard it, except that it had to have
been when I was a pre-teen, around the ages of ten to twelve,
1947-1949. It was in 1949, when a neighbor boy whose name escapes me
pretty much closed the book on everyday sexual obscenities when he
taught me "cunt" and informed me that there was such a thing as anal
sex. By that time, I'd long been familiar with the concept of oral sex
under the names "dick-sucking" and "pussy-eating." Well, with the
terms, in any case, since, at that age, I had no idea that these
activities were anything more than mere abstractions. In fact, I was
still under the impression that, with the exception of "fart," "fuck,"
and "shit," only we children knew about these activities and that they
were beyond the ken of adults. When I was nine, my mother heard me say
"fuck" and asked whether I knew what it meant. Of course, I was only
too happy to enlighten her. And, of course, I was stunned to discover
what it *really* meant. On some other occasion, she mentioned that,
when she was a child, kids said, "Well, you thought like Lit, 'cause
you fart when you shit!" when someone said, "But I thought...!" So, I
was for sure that adults knew, at most, those three words and what they

> BTW, I think it was Fred Shapiro who unearthed a couple of
> "motherfucking" exx. from 1880s murder trials - in Texas, of course.
> Too late for HDAS II, I discovered a 1918 "motherfucker" in a
> seriously ill-advised letter from a black doughboy to his draft board.
> "So what?" the world replies. Our limited material evidence of actual
> American shock language before Henry Miller and outside of NYC makes
> this information more valuable than it might appear.
>  JL
> Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:
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> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: Wilson Gray
> Subject: Re: "Long, Tall Texan"
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> On Dec 1, 2004, at 1:33 PM, Mark A. Mandel wrote:
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>> Sender: American Dialect Society
>> Poster: "Mark A. Mandel"
>> Subject: Re: "Long, Tall Texan"
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>> -
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>> Wilson writes:
>> Well, people look at me and say
>> "Hurrah, hurrah, is you the law?"
>> [...]
>> This must have been transcribed by a Northerner, because nobody from
>> down home would misspell [^ r^] as "hurrah." I've never seen this
>> string in any kind of writing or in any kind of print, so I don't know
>> how one *would* spell it. "Uh ruh," perhaps? But "hurrah" can't
>> possibly be right.
>> <<<<<
>> Well, what does it mean? How is it used? I don't know of any other
>> interjection (or other stuff) that sounds anything like [^r^] and
>> would make
>> any sense there.
>> -- Mark
>> [This text prepared with Dragon NaturallySpeaking.]
> I don't know what I can tell you, Mark. Clearly, the use of [^ r^] is
> far less widespread than I had assumed. In the past, I've had the same
> problem with, e.g. "fuck over [someone]," which stunned my white
> barracks-mates back in 1960. I just assumed that everybody knew it
> because everybody that I had known up to the point at which I "went
> public" with it knew it.
> As I've noted in reply to a question raised earlier, I've never lived
> anyplace where this sound is not used as a pause-filler by black people
> - well, it's used by black people of my generation and older, at least
> - especially in story-telling, preceding a "semi-quotation": the er-rah
> tells a listener that the speaker - the LT Texan - is claiming only
> that something *like* what he is saying was spoken by the absent third
> party; and as a polite way of getting someone's attention, as is also
> the case in the song, wherein local yokels want to question the LT
> Texan about his social status. However, when I heard the original, 1963
> version of the song, obviously - or maybe only seemingly - sung by
> white people, I leaped/leapt to the apparently-unwarranted conclusion
> that the use of er-rah was common to all people of Southern heritage.
> -Wilson
> ---------------------------------
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