They’re Only Words, and Words Are All I Have …

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Clinton, South Carolina, Saturday, February 2, 2019, 1:49 p.m.

By Monte Dutton

I just checked the TV listings and see that PBR Bull Riding is on from Oklahoma City. Now, PBR stands for Professional Bull Riders, so what the message on TV indicates is that what is on is Professional Bull Riders Bull Riding.

What a surprise that professional bull riders would be riding bulls.

This is nothing new for a man who grew up hearing people refer to “PC College,” which, of course, is Presbyterian College College. When my job was writing about NASCAR, I was aware of the signs all over the state capital of Virginia that offered directions to “RIR Raceway,” and just in case you are tempted to dismiss this as Southern ignorance, Michigan had signs, the last time I went there, that read “MIS Speedway.”

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I could be wrong. Bull Riding could be sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon. After all, I am conversant with song lyrics that read: Gimme a beer or two and I’ll be fine / At least it worked every other time / I’m a ro-deo-deo-deo cowboy / Bordering on the insane. I’m familiar with the way Jerry Jeff Walker sang it, but it was written by Dave Gilstrap.

As a boy, I wished I was Irish, but both sides of my family are as English as English can be, all except for my grandfather Hudson Davis, who had dark complexion because he had some Cherokee blood. If I were in politics, President Trump would undoubtedly call me Geronimo.

As I’ve gotten older, though, in part because I write for a living, I’ve grown to love the English for their economy of language.

I love you, Heathcliff.

And I you.

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In the South, or the States in general, we have no economy of language. A Southerner asks, “What time is it?” An Englishman asks, “Have you the time?”

A Southerner dallies with words almost constantly. He (or she), instead of asking, “How are you?” might ask, “How you been gettin’ along?”

“Fine, and you?”

Southerners can “fine, and you” back and forth for five minutes. On this side of the pond, we tie our words up in knots, use too many of them, and prove we aren’t very smart by using words we think will show others we are.

Many occurrences in life routinely described as “surreal” aren’t. Many events described as “historical” are really “historic.” “Ironic” seldom is. I had a friend in college who used general terms of derision. I called it his “word of the week.” For a while, it was “brutal.” Then it was “obnoxious.”

That guy’s brutal. This game is brutal. Last night was brutal. The weather is brutal. This chicken is brutal.

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Kids today are fond of code words that can mean almost anything. Turnt. Lit. Faded. They rise up and subside as adults slowly figure them out. That’s why God gave us an Urban Dictionary on the internet. Nowumsayin?

For my entire career as a journalist, I have been conscious of people saying “like I said” of something they haven’t said.

Writers are often sticklers about language because, well, they write. Most people don’t care, which is why language keeps changing and not for the better. They become annoyed when some wiseacre such as I says that “black ice” is just another word for “ice.” Sometimes they try to defend it.

“Black ice is a slicker because it is a frozen mixture of oil and water,” someone told me.

“Oil and water don’t mix,” I said.

“Oh.”

Life is hard / No matter where you go / It’s a tortured path / Tough row to hoe / When the wheels spin / Got a heavy load / Hoping I can get / To the paved road.

 

The Barrie Jarman Adventures (Gabe Whisnant photo

If you become a patron of mine, you’re supporting writing like this as well as my mostly NASCAR blogs at montedutton.com. If you’ve got a few bucks a month to spare, click here.

Another way I cobble out a living is with my books, a wide variety of which is available for sale here.

(Steven Novak cover)

 

The new novel, my eighth, is called Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Lightning in a Bottle is now available in an audio version, narrated by Jay Harper.

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