By KIM POINDEXTER
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on what I call “Okiespeak.” I talked about some of the language peculiar to Okies, how we’re always “commencing” one thing or another, how we like to pair the adjective “plumb” with other words (as in “you’re plumb crazy, you know it?”) and how we refer to the rest of you as “y’all.”
No sooner had that edition of the newspaper hit the racks than I took a chastising from Olga Hoenes, who wanted to know why I didn’t mention the verb “fixin’.” Okies will understand this has little to do with repair work, even though some of us are capable of implementing said repairs. This type of “fixin’” (and the “g” is never necessary for an “ing” word in the lexicon of an Okie) is an indicator of an action to come. And while we may drop the “g” from the end of the word, we often add an “a” as a prefix, to come up with “a-fixin’.”
It could be an much-anticipated financial commitment: “I’m a-fixin’ to buy my daughter a new car.” It could be a life-changing event: “I’m a-fixin’ to get myself married.” (Remember, we Okies always “get ourselves” one thing or another.) Or it could be a threat: “I’m a-fixin’ to whoop your butt.” In which case, you’d better run, because Okies are known for whooping a lot of butt.
And mind you, we “whoop” butt; we don’t “whip” it. “Whipping butt” sounds more like something you’d do with egg whites to make meringue. (That last word, by the way, is pronounced “muh-RANG,” and you put it on top of cream pies.)
But that kind of whipping has nothing to do with butts, or even balling up your fist and slamming it into someone’s jaw – which is what we sometimes mean when we’re talking about “whipping butt.” Come to think of it, jaws aren’t even always involved, or noses, either. Oftentimes, “whooping butt” – Okiespeak for a physical altercation – starts with a loudly issued threat by one person against another. Then the two push around on each other and eventually lock up until bystanders pull them apart before they do any major damage.
Now, there is another verbal use for “whippin’,” not to be confused with “whoopin’.” It involves what happens when a parent wields a paddle or a belt – or sometimes if no other tool is available, a bare hand – against an unruly child. If I had a dime for every time my father uttered the statement “You’re gonna get a whippin’ when we get home” – and delivered on the promise, which he always did – I’d be a wealthy woman. Or, if you prefer, “wunna them rich folks.” Because in Oklahoma, you’re either “rich folks” or “poor folks”; there’s not much in between.
The threat of the kind of whipping administered by a parent to a child (which these days can get you charged with a crime) can be issued in a number of ways by an Okie. Here are a few: “I’m gonna tan your hide”; “I’m gonna bust your behind”; “I’m gonna blister your fanny”; and “I’m gonna take a switch to ya” (the personal favorite of all my grandparents, though I can’t remember any of them ever following through). The latter, of course, was preceded in most homes by the order to “go cut yourself a switch.” Humiliation at its finest for Okie kids.
Although Okies do like to add the letter “a” as a prefix to verbs – “I’m a-gonna tan your hiney,” “I’m a-headin’ down to the store,” “He’s a-gettin’ a little too big for his britches,” or “For cryin’ out loud, I’m a-tryin’ to get some sleep in here!” – we don’t much care for the longer forms of words in general. The roadkill attracting a multitude of buzzards along Highway 10 doesn’t consist of opossums and raccoons, but rather ‘possums and ‘coons. Not to mention the occasional armadillo, which some of us call “ammadillers.”
On the other hand, sometimes we add words we really don’t need – apparently, for effect. It’s not good enough to simply say, “I bought a house.” Instead, we might tell you, “I’ve gone and bought a house” – presumably indicating we did have to “go” somewhere to buy it. If “you’ve gone and made me mad now,” you apparently took at least a brief trip before you committed the offense. We abuse prepositions in the same manner. An Okie doesn’t simply say, “My aunt died last night.” Rather, he’ll inform you, “My aunt up and died last night.” We don’t really need the “up,” unless it’s meant to convey our wish that the deceased head in that general direction in the afterlife. If so, that could explain why we never say someone “down and died.” That wouldn’t be fittin’.
Speaking of things that “wouldn’t be fittin’,” Okies don’t curse. Such activities are reserved for those who don’t mind chancing a violation of the Second Commandment, or for some gal from New Orleans toting a voodoo doll and a box of pins (which we pronounce “pe-uhns,” as I’ve said before). If we swear, it’s more like a promise: “I swear it weren’t me that was a-datin’ your old lady.” But some of us do “cuss,” which is an entirely different thing.
Some of us would rather substitute more genteel words for the hard-edged epithets. We’ll say, “For cryin’ out loud, can’t you do nuthin’ right?” What any of this has to do with uttering a noise from one’s mouth is beyond me. Or we’ll say, “Bring me the dad-gum phone, so I can call your gramma.” I’m not sure how a patronly figure and a sticky-sweet treat became combined into a sort of slur, but I’m sure it must have originated in the Sooner state.
My grandmothers would have “just as soon died” as utter a curse word. (Incidentally, “just as soon” is another phrase we cotton to, much like the phrase “cotton to.”) But these Southern Baptist women had their own ways of expressing themselves.
Grandma Ashlock would roll her eyes and mutter, “Oh, dear John”; I presume she was issuing a plea to the fellow who may or may not have written the fourth gospel. My Grandma Poindexter had an affinity for long-necked water fowl, and thus would say, “I’ll swan!” This may have been her way of getting as close as she morally could stand to “I’ll swear!”
Speaking of swearing, I think I might have heard Teddye Snell mumble a decidedly un-Okie-like word at me, since she’s been waiting for this column to complete page 4A. I think I’ll up and finish it afore I get myself into trouble.
Kim Poindexter is a lifetime Okie, and the managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.