In my most recent post I discussed how Americans and British people use the same words differently. It’s got me thinking about all things semantic, and there’s so much more I could write about the way Americans speak. I lived in Texas for two summers, and that’s a whole different kettle of fish. Texas is big. So big, in fact, that it really warrants its own post. Admittedly, my exposure to The Lone Star state has been limited; focused almost exclusively on the Houston area. I’m aware things are wildly different in the likes of Fort Worth and Waco. I wouldn’t be surprised if the folks over in El Paso talk entirely differently, given that it’s as far away from Houston as is Mexico City. So the following is based off of experiences I’ve had in the Magnolia City, and how they’ve seemed to be especially Texan to me. They’ve contributed to my overall impression of the state. They’re quirky and colorful evolutions of the Mother Tongue.
I’m basing this list off of experiences I’ve had, and I’ve decided to pick words and phrases I think most Texans would use. I never once saw a Texan call themselves the “rootinest tootinest” of something or yell out “tarnation!” when they stubbed their toe. So I will be leaving out things that don’t go beyond the stereotypes. If you’re a Texan reading this, let me know in the comments how many of these you use. Hopefully, I’ve created a list that is representative of everyday life.
This one might be the most subtle, widespread item on the list. It’s used as a twangy corruption of “aren’t” in much of the Deep South, and is considered something of a staple of Texas. But it’s such a natural, unconscious part of a Texan’s lexicon that you hardly even notice it when they are using it.
Example: “Ain’t they gonna notice we just taped over their wedding video with the latest episode of Fixer Upper?”
It’s quite common in Texas for people to address each other as “sir” or ma’am” when in a formal or professional environment. I noticed it first when my roomie Anne-Marie was calling up AT&T to complain about the shoddy internet service, and the woman on the other end of the phone kept calling her “ma’am”.
Example: “I’m so sorry about that ma’am. We’ll send someone out to you as soon as we can.”
This one might be my favorite. I decided not to put y’all on here if only because it’s so obvious. Instead, I’d much rather bring attention to the way I’ve noticed Texans use the word y’alls’s (pronounced: YAHL-SIZZ) to refer to the possession of a group. It’ll make more sense in the example below.
Example: “What’s yalls’s street address? I heard y’all moved to Seabrook.”
- All y’all.
This is the second y’all-related entry and it’s another beauty. Whereas y’all refers to a group of people, the phrase “all y’all” refers to multiple groups of people. Imagine it being used by a carnie to a long line of waiting teenagers.
Example: “All y’all can go right on home because the mechanical bull done broke on us again.”
- Dropping the “g”.
I like this, because I feel like it’s emblematic of a recurring theme in Texan English. Texans like language that rolls smoothly off the tongue; they haven’t got time for worrying about what might be considered “proper”. When using words like “fixing” and “shaking” the “g” at the end will completely disappear. I find it so interesting that the “g” upsets them, and I completely agree to be honest. You don’t need to emphasize the “g” for the word to make sense, and so “fixing” evolves into “fixin”.
Example: “Melanie burped at the dinner table yesterday, so when the Pastor left I gave her a whoopin.”
I love this one because there’s an anecdote to go with it. My friends and I went to a birthday dinner at the local hibachi restaurant in Webster, and our group was the first to arrive. As we waited, my new friend Jeb decided to teach me some Texan. Jeb didn’t wear a Stetson or a bolo tie. In fact he was a swimming pool salesman. But he was born and raised in Texas and told me that all Texans say “reckon”. He double-dog-dared me to go up to the hostess with my hips cocked and my thumb in my belt, and say “I reckon y’all have a table for Mr Potter”. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to be channeling my inner Matthew McConaughey because the lady glared at me and said “What?”. I shuffled away in shame while Jeb translated for me.
Example: “I reckon you need to watch Dallas Buyers Club a few more times before you impersonate a Texan again.”
- Come up/Come over/Come down.
It doesn’t matter whether you are north or south of the person you’re speaking to, or if you are on the top floor and they the bottom. Texans use any of these three variants to invite people to their house.
Example: “Y’all should come up this weekend, we’re makin’ pizza rolls!”
This one is great because it’s another example of the way Texans like to speak. Texan English is very smooth; words roll seamlessly into one another. Texans often reduce the word “than” to just “n”. They then tack this “n” onto the end of the previous word for optimum comfort and efficiency. Bigger than becomes bigger’n. Tougher than becomes tougher’n. You get the idea.
Example: “Hoo-ee! Your wife is madder’n all hell about the mess we made on poker night.”
I learned this one before I ever crossed the Red River. In the Upper Midwest they call it pop, in the south they call it soda, and in the UK we call it a fizzy drink. In Texas, all sodas are referred to as “Cokes”. Whether it’s a Dr Pepper or Blackcurrent Fanta, it’s simply a Coke in Texas.
Example: “What kind of Cokes do you have? I’d love a Mountain Dew.”
- Not my first rodeo.
Texans love these little idioms. It’s a big part of the way they communicate and it’s what makes them so special. Famous examples include “All hat and no cattle” and “More’n you can shake a stick at”. However I decided to choose “This ain’t my first rodeo” because I feel like it’s the most likely to be used by all kinds of Texans, and not just the straw-chewing stereotypes. I could definitely see Jeb using it, and many other Texans, whether they are city-slickers or country folk.
Example: “You asked for key lime pie, and that’s what you’re gonna get. Don’t worry- this here ain’t my first rodeo.”
During my stay in Texas, I actually met more Louisianans than Texans. So I thought it might be fun, as a special treat, to list my favorite expression I learned from them. Jeb’s wife is Cajun, so we’ll go ahead and call her…Blanche. Anyway, Blanche told us that when Cajuns go to the grocery store, they say “We’re makin’ groceries.”