Lee Pitts: Relatively Speaking
October 24, 2018
My family talks funny. My mom and grandparents on her side of the family are all gone now but I can still hear them using words like privy, lariat, pipsqueak, scuttlebutt and wieners. They said things were okey-dokey and the bee's knees. My grandfather, a great man who never used the words paradigm, facilitate, sustainability, global warming or Facebook in his life always referred to the cattle I raised as Aberdeen Angus. When's the last time you heard them called that, 1954?
I didn't want to be seen in public with my relatives for fear they'd open their mouths and embarrass me. Take the word "rodeo" for example. I'm proud of the fact that in my hometown there is a large park named after my grandfather with several ball fields and other facilities where the kids of my community can play safely. It's named after my grandpa because he and some friends had a dream that if they produced annual big time RCA sanctioned rodeos they could make enough money to buy the land and build a first class playground for the kids. They did so in style. Now here's the embarrassing part: my grandfather always referred to the land where the rodeos were held as the "ro-day-o" grounds.
If you want to lose your cowboy friends in a hurry just say "ro-day-o." They'll think you are from Beverly Hills and do your shopping on Ro-day-o Drive. Golly gee, no one goes to the San Antonio or Denver Ro-day-o and the NFR is not the National Finals Ro-day-o.
I ask you, who else talks this way? No one.
So you can imagine my surprise when I went to the Salinas Rodeo for the first time and old-timers there were referring to it as the Salinas Ro-day-o. I thought I was in some strange time warp where I was back in my childhood. Surely all these people could not be related to me on my mother's side.
Another word that grated like fingernails on a chalkboard was the way my family used the word "ranch." Whenever anyone would say they were going out to my great-grandma's place they'd say they were "going out to the ranch." But she didn't own a single cow. She grew lemons and walnuts and her place should have been referred to as an orchard or maybe a farm. But never a ranch! You don't rope or roundup lemons, for crying out loud!
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I remember getting into an argument with my mom one time about the way her family talked. "A ranch is where you grow animals and a farm is where you plant things in the dirt and grow crops," I patiently explained.
"Oh yeah, Mr. Smarty Pants, haven't you ever heard of a dairy farm or a pig farm? Or how about a fish farm? They don't stick fish in the ground to grow them."
Changing the subject rapidly I moved on to broach another subject that had been bothering me. "On another language matter, the proper pronunciation is "Ro-dee-oh."
"No, it's of Spanish derivation and ro-day-o is the proper pronunciation," she argued.
I countered with a winning argument: "Well, just because it's proper doesn't mean it's right."
I guess I told her.
I could see that my mother was still not convinced about the proper usage of the words "rodeo," "farm" and "ranch" so I suggested that we find an authority to settle the argument. My mother's family is all from California and have been stuck here for six generations, so naturally their misuse of words is tainted by the Spanish influence. So I suggested we ask someone more worldly. Like someone from Missouri, Oklahoma or further South where my father's family all come from. So I asked a cousin, "We're trying to settle an argument. First of all what is the definition of a ranch?" I asked.
"I thought you were going to ask me a hard one," said my southern cousin. "That's easy. A ranch is a tool used for tightening bolts."
Sometimes I think I was born into the wrong family.