Screamer (Was: another bad line break)

Mon Apr 12 23:21:13 UTC 2004

        I haven't seen the movie and don't know the manner in which Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) utters the line.  If the historical Crockett said "I'm a screamer," though, he probably meant it in a highly positive sense.  The Century Dictionary defines "screamer" as "Something very great, excellent, or exciting; a thing that attracts the attention or draws forth screams of astonishment, delight, etc.; a whacker; a bouncer.  {Slang, U.S.]  If he's a specimen of the Choctaws that live in these parts, they are screamers.  Thorpe, Backwoods."

        In contrast, Barry has produced at least one quote, from 1977, that gives "screamer" as a synonym for "nurd":

        I think this longer quote likely shows what Crockett would have understood "screamer" to mean (whether or not it was in fact written by him; there are a number of 19th century writings fancifully attributed to him).  This is from

        <<From the point of view of tropes typical for Davy Crockett's series the following extract from the story "Speech of Colonel Crockett in Congress" is of great interest:

"In one word I'm a screamer, and have got the roughest racking horse, the prettiest sister, the surest rifle and the ugliest dog in the district. I'm a leetle the savagest crittur you ever did see. My father can whip any man in Kentucky, and I can lick my father. I can outspeak any man on this floor, and give him two hours start. I can run faster, dive deeper, stay longer under, and come out drier, than any chap this side the big Swamp. I can outlook a panther and outstare a flash of lightning, tote a steamboat on my back and play at rough and tumble with a lion, and an occasional kick from a zebra. To sum up all in one word I'm a horse. Goliah was a pretty hard colt but I could choke him. I can take the rag off - frighen the old folks - astonish the natives - and beat the Dutch all to smash - make nothing of sleeping under a blanket of snow - and don't mind being frozen more than a rotten apple.

"Congress allows lemonade to the members and has it charged under the head of stationary - I move also that whiskey be allowed under the item of fuel. For bitters I can suck away at a noggin of aquafortis, sweetened with brimstone, stirred with a lightning rod, and skimmed with a hurricane. I've soaked my head and shoulders in Salt River, so much that I'm always corned. I can walk like an ox, run like a fox, swim like an eel, yell like an Indian, fight like a devil, spout like an earthquake, make love like a mad bull, and swallow a nigger whole without choking it if you butter his head and pin his ears back.." >>

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
Of Yerkes, Susan
Sent: Monday, April 12, 2004 6:10 PM
Subject: Re: another bad line break

Actually, I have another question for the list, this more serious.
The only really big new element in the Touchstone movie of the Alamo, as
I understand it, is the manner of Davy Crockett's death.

Alamo historians are still divided over the authenticity of the De la
Pena diary, a fairly recently discovered journal purportedly kept by one
of Santa Anna's officers during the Texian revolution. In the journal,
De la Pena described several survivors of the dawn siege that toppled
the Alamo, and claimed that Santa Anna ordered them executed. If De la
Pena was correct and the journal is authentic, Crockett did not die
swinging ol' Betsy, as John Wayne did.

If that isn't bad enough for die-hard believers in the mythic-hero
version, here's the REAL rub: According to reviewers (I have yet to see
it) Crockett's last words, spoken as Santa Anna's troops are about to
skewer him, are "I'm a screamer."

It seems to me that I've read enough literature from that period, or
perhaps seen enough Davy Crockett movies -- or maybe it's Twain dialogue
--from way back, that the phrase "I'm a screamer" seems to fit right in
with the backwoodsman ethos, along with "I'm a ba'r wrasslin',
alligator-whompin' son of a gun" or words to that effect.
But many of my fellow Texans apparently interpret that phrase as akin to
"I'm a fainter," which has rather different connotations.

I've followed the list's comments on "Deadwood" dialogue and cowboy
euphemism with interest. Please forgive me if the use of "screamer" as a
descriptive noun on the U.S. frontier has already been discussed here.
And thanks for any response.

Susan Yerkes
San Antonio Express-News
San Antonio TX. 78205
210- 250-3455
E-mail: syerkes at
Fax: 210-250-3405

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