Gwen Peterson: Cowboy conversation is an art of repetition and silence | TheFencePost.com

Gwen Peterson: Cowboy conversation is an art of repetition and silence

Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.

The Times, as the feller says, they are a-changin'. What with all the social media stuff, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, Skype and others one stumbles across, there's no end of opportunity to speak about whatever might be sticking in one's craw.

In Out West ranch country, however, folks mostly talk slower and not necessarily the same English as is spoken in metropolitan areas. Country men often fail to exchange conversation at all. A group of cowboys and ranchers having a confab while gathered around the back end of a pickup may or may not actually employ speech.

They are often comfortable merely staring at the horizon. But when the urge to talk causes verbalization to take place, they are apt to lazily repeat each sentence — which helps conversational lag.

Clyde: "How's it going?"

Clint: "Oh, could be worse, could be better."

Clyde and Clint enjoy a pause as each slouches to a hip and commences staring into bed of pickup or at the sky or ground.

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Clyde: "You git your lambs sold?"

Clint: "Hmmm?"

Clyde: "You git your lambs sold?"

Clint: "Yup."

Clyde: "When'd you ship em?"

Clint: "Hmmm?"

Clyde: "When'd you ship 'em?"

Clint: "Last Friday; took a pickup load to market."

Clyde: "Last Friday? Pickup load?"

Clint: "Yup."

(Clyde and Clint enjoy another pause. Change slouches to opposite hips, stare at sky, ground.) Clyde casually reaches for shirt pocket and extracts a can of Copenhagen. So does Clint. Each thoughtfully places a dab of snuff inside his lip.

Clyde: "Git any rain up your way?

Clint: "Hmmmm?"

Clyde: "Git any rain up your way?"

And so it goes. Hint to greenhorn newcomer to ranch country: Note in the above dialogue that no mention is made of actual number of lambs taken to market nor is the price received announced. It is up to Clint to reveal that information, which he may eventually choose to do, especially if they are friends. Asking a rancher acquaintance how many stock he owns or acres he operates is like asking someone his or her yearly income in front of company.

Helpful hints to greenhorns and newcomers who may be trying to understand the culture and want to learn western speechifying:

Avoid using plain verbs. For example, in any sentence using words meaning "to run", substitute skedaddle, hightail it, light out, lope, full-bore flat-out or faster than a rooster after a hen.

Listen for colloquialisms such as: "Hang and rattle," meaning making a big noise or a pest of yourself until noticed. Or: "Happy as a peach-orchard boar," meaning you couldn't be happier.

What to say when asked, "How's it going?" Answer: "Oh, could be worse, could be better."

What to say if you disapprove of someone's action such as marrying a person of questionable stability (in your opinion). Answer: "He/she sure drove his/her geese to a poor market."

What to say when a get-together between persons of opposite opinions or excitable personalities results in an uproar. "Boy if that's not money and a parrot situation."

What to say when you want to describe the keen cutting ability of a good cowhorse, Answer: "That horse is so good, he could cut a pissant away from the sugar bowl."

What to say when an animal, or perhaps a human, is on his/her last legs and failing fast. Answer: "That poor old skate hasn't (or ain't got) long to go." In ranch country — eons ago — ice-skate blades used to be made from the ribs of old horses gone to that Great Pasture in the Sky. Hence an "old skate" refers to any critter that appears ready to cash in.

What to say when completely fed up with an individual and resolve never to have anything more to do with him/her.

Answer: "Far as I'm concerned, the sun went down on that !@#$%^&*()_+!!" ❖

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