"Long, Tall Texan"

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Wed Dec 1 22:46:08 UTC 2004

On Dec 1, 2004, at 1:33 PM, Mark A. Mandel wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Mark A. Mandel" <mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: "Long, Tall Texan"
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------
> --------
> 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.


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