"Long, Tall Texan"

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Wed Dec 1 06:28:11 UTC 2004

On Tue, 30 Nov 2004 22:28:46 -0500, Wilson Gray <wilson.gray at RCN.COM> wrote:

>Do any of y'all remember the song, "Long, Tall Texan," popular in the
>early 'Sixties, I believe? Its chorus was, according to a lyrics site:
>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.

Here are some other attempted transcriptions (I assume the first three are
more Yankee mishearings):

   Ole Roy ole Roy...

   Oh, Roy! Oh, Roy...

   Ooh! Roy, Roy...

   Er-Rah, er-Rah...

So is [^r^] simply a Texan "filled pause" or does it indicate something
more expressive, like dumbfounded amazement?

I'm reminded of [@r@] "er uh", the filled pause used by some non-rhotic
Northerners, most notably the Kennedys and Bugs Bunny. (Here's a sound
clip of the latter:

--Ben Zimmer

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