Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Figurative Language.... in East Texas

I am sitting here thinking it is  time I put something on my blog since I haven't in 4 weeks.  (I have been preoccupied with travel plans thanks to a very unexpected opportunity to go to Ireland for 2 weeks... Yes, I am excited!) As I try to dredge up anything creative or clever, all I hear is a resounding echo of empty space. Then my thoughts turn to the movie I just watched, Bernie. 

For those of you who have not seen or heard of it, it is a movie set in rural East Texas about 45 minutes from where I live, 20 minutes from where I grew up, and a couple of the characters are actually from my home town (including Bernie at one time).  Jack Black plays Bernie, the title character who was a beloved small town mortician who befriended an unpopular widow, played by Shirley MacLaine, and eventually murdered her (this is a true story by the way; I recall hearing about it on the news back in the day and being appalled that such a thing could happen around here). Matthew McConaughey (also a local boy) plays the D.A.  Although it is a tragic story, the peculiar events and small East Texas town charisma made it well-suited for a dark comedy.  I have to say, I found it entertaining, feeling a bit guilty all the way through about laughing under such circumstances (it is after-all a horrible and tragic event) . In my own defense, the humor for me was in the portrayal of my fellow East Texans (it is filmed as a docudrama and features actual East Texans portraying townspeople and being interviewed about the incident and characters).  Although it comes across as somewhat of a caricature, I "recognized" so many of the characters and personalities I have grown up knowing. 

It made me realize how the "outside world" must perceive us... then I smiled because there is really no such thing as the "outside world" anymore.  Admit it, whoever you may be, your world of people have their own quirks and odditities as well.

I think what struck me the most was the sheer amount of figurative language we in East Texas tend to use.  Having spent my entire life in Texas, I am not sure if other areas speak this way also.  (Let me know if you do).  Then I thought of my poor language impaired kids and those on the Autism Spectrum who have so much difficulty understanding figurative language.  How difficult it must be for them living in the midst of a figurative language mecca! 

On that note, I thought it would be fun to run through a few of the sayings from the movie (at least the ones that are suitable for repetition; many East Texans are fond of colorful language):

Expression: Explanation
  • Fixin to: We are about to do something
  • Our donkey is in the ditch: We are in trouble - Donkeys are stubborn animals and not as graceful as horses, so if one were to fall into a ditch, you would have a very hard time getting it back out.
  • Mean as a rattlesnake: Really mean, deadly - no explanation needed
  • That dog don't hunt: something is not true, or no one really cares, or an idea that will not work.
  • (Okay... this is all remember at the moment from the movie... I will have to watch it again with pen and paper in hand and then come back and update this post).
Here is a nice article in Texas Monthly offering up a bevy of slang terms often heard in Texas.

Here a few I like from the article:
  • So dusty the rabbits are digging holes six feet in the air
  • She could talk a coon right out of a tree.
  • Scared as a cat at the dogpound
  • She’s a couple sandwiches shy of a picnic.
  • He thinks the sun came up just to hear him crow.
Truth be told, it seems like an "anything goes" proposition for figurative language in Texas; many sayings seem to be made up on the spot.  I guess that means we are pretty proficient at analogous thinking, outside of the box, in humorous and colorful ways...

Well, it is time for the chickens to roost so I need to be blowing out the candles and hitting the hay to get some shut eye.  Don't let the screen door hit you on the backside.