Rifles and gators and fur-wheelers, Oh my!

". . . And sitting on the western shore of Lake Buchanan is the community of Tow, another name I had to learn how to pronounce. It's not pronounced “Toe” like “Someone better call in a tow truck!” It's pronounced like the first three letters in the word “towel.” That's because it's named after two brothers, William and Wilson Tow, who settled in the area in the 1850s.." - Lew K. Cohn

 

 

 

 

“Hey, I've got a rifle I want you to advertise!” the caller said.

“A rifle?” I asked.

“No, not a rifle. A rifle. For a Gator” he said.

“You have a rifle made for an alligator?” I asked, not sure I heard correctly.

“No, there is no rifle. It's a rifle. You know, where you sell tickets and the person with the winning ticket gets a prize?”

“Oh, a raffle!” I said. “I misunderstood you.”

“That's what I've been saying. A rifle. For a Gator.”

“You're giving away an alligator?”

“No, a Gator. You know, a Mule?”

“Well which is it, an alligator or a mule? Those are two very different animals, plus I'm not sure you can sell tickets to give away an alligator in the state of Texas.”

“It's not an animal. It's a fur-wheeler.”

“A fur-wheeler? But, alligators and mules don't have fur! Wheels don't either!”

“No, dummy, not fur like animal fur. I mean the number “fur!”

“Oh, a four-wheeler! Well, why didn't you just say so?” I asked.

Such is the way not only of words, but accents, when you live in rural Texas. Sometimes I feel like it takes a degree in linguistics to decipher what people are trying to say because, even though I was born in Mississippi and have lived in Tennessee, South Carolina and Texas, my own accent doesn't sound like it.

I was blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) to have teachers from the North who came to the Magnolia State in the 1970s in search of job opportunities. As a result, unless I am stressed out, tired or simply playing a character at Hill Country Community Theatre, I typically speak without a distinctive accent.

In 1984, my family moved to Austin from Columbia, South Carolina, and I learned quickly that just because a word is spelled one way doesn't mean that's how it sounds, especially words of Spanish origin. There's the way you think it is pronounced … and then there is the Texan way (aka the “right” way).

The first time I ever pronounced Pedernales, people looked at me like I didn't have a lick of sense because I pronounced it “Ped-er-NAH-les.” Several people quickly volunteered to set me straight that it is pronoucned “Perd-NOW-les,” thank you very much. And Blanco is not “BLAHN-co” but “BLANK-o.”

I'll never forget when we moved to Marble Falls two years ago and I made the mistake of saying the name of Lake Buchanan wrong. I thought it was pronounced like the last name of the former president of the United States, James Buchanan, who pronounced his name “BYOO-CAN-UN.” I got a “stank-eye” from more than one of my co-workers.

Well, the lake is named for James Buchanan, but not the former president. Instead, it was named for the former U.S. Representative who served the Austin area from 1913 to his death in 1937 and was the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations. He was LBJ's predecessor and his nickname was “Buck,” apparently because he pronounced his name “BUCK-cannon.”

And sitting on the western shore of Lake Buchanan is the community of Tow, another name I had to learn how to pronounce. It's not pronounced “Toe” like “Someone better call in a tow truck!” It's pronounced like the first three letters in the word “towel.” That's because it's named after two brothers, William and Wilson Tow, who settled in the area in the 1850s.

One thing I will not get used to, however, is how some 49 counties in Texas have a position called “criminal district attorney.” A district attorney, by definition, is the chief prosecutor for the area in which he or she serves. For example, Wiley “Sonny” McAfee is the district attorney locally and he handles prosecution of criminal offenses, but the word “criminal” is not used in his title. Civil cases involving the county (and advice to elected officials) is handled through our county attorney, Eddie Arredondo.

Apparently, in Bexar County, they have an elected “criminal district attorney” and one of his deputies oversees the office's “civil division,” fulfilling the same role Arredondo does for Burnet County.

To me, saying criminal district attorney is either redundant or, in using the word as an adjective, you are saying the district attorney is a “criminal,” which is a pretty strong accusation to make against someone.

No wonder my parents always told me, “Choose your words carefully.”

Lew K. Cohn is the managing editor of The Highlander and Burnet Bulletin. His columns appear periodically in the newspapers featuring his musings on life, the community and his personal experiences. He also specializes in covering community news, including Burnet County Commissioners, the city of Horseshoe Bay and local and state politics. Send him a note at lew@thehighlander.com.

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