A Curious Will.

June 2, 2017 § Leave a comment

This story has nothing to do with Austin except that it appeared in the April 25, 1892, edition of the Daily Statesman, and I found it as entertaining as the Statesman’s editors and readers no doubt did. It was reprinted all over the world for decades after his death.

Canmedaj01489-0107-aDr. William “Tiger” Dunlop (1792-1848) was an army officer, surgeon, Canada Company official, author, justice of the peace, militia officer, politician, and office holder. He is notable for his contributions to the War of 1812 in Canada and his work in the Canada Company, helping to develop and populate a large part of Southern Ontario (the Huron Tract). He was later elected as a Member of the first Parliament of Upper Canada. Find out more about Tiger at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_%22Tiger%22_Dunlop.

A Curious Will. 

Here are the principal portions of a will made by Dr. Dunlop, at one time a member of the Canadian Legislature:

“I being in sound health of body and mind, which my friends who do not flatter me say is no great shakes at the best of times, do make my last will and testament … .

I leave the property of Gairbread … to my sisters Helen Boyle Storey and Elizabeth Boyle Dunlop, the former because she is married to a minister, whom may, God keep him, she henpecks, the latter because she is married to nobody, nor is she likely to be, for she is an old maid and not market ripe.

I leave my silver tankard to the eldest son of John, as the representative of the family. I would have left it to old John himself, but he would have melted it down to make temperance medals, and that would have been a sacrilege. However, I leave him my big horn snuff box; he can only make temperance horn spoons out of that.

I leave my sister Jennie my Bible, the property formerly of my great grandmother, Betsy Hamilton of Woodhall, and when she knows as much of the spirit as she does of the letter she will be a much better Christian than she is.

I leave my late brother’s watch to my brother Sandy, exhorting him at the same time to give up Whiggery and Radicalism, and all other sins that do most easily beset him.

I leave my brother-in-law, Allan, my punch bowl, as he is a big gausy man, and likely to do credit to it. I leave to Parson Cherussci my big silver snuff box I got from the Simcoe Militia, as a small token of gratitude to him for taking my sister Maggie, whom no man of taste would have taken.

I leave to John Caldwell a silver teapot to the end that he may drink tea therefore to comfort him under the affliction of a slatternly wife.

I leave my books to my brother Andrew, because he has been “jingling wally,” that he may yet learn to read with them.

I leave my silver cup with the sovereign in the bottom of it to my sister Janet, because she is an old maid and pious and therefore necessarily given to hoarding, and also my grandmother’s snuff box, as it looks decent to see an old maid taking snuff.

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Word of the Day

October 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Along with the free and open dispersion of porn, the greatest beneficiary of the Internet: Ultracrepidarianism, the habit of giving opinions and advice on matters which one knows nothing about. The word first appeared as an insult in an 1819 letter by essayist William Hazlitt.

So Long, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Good Riddance

March 17, 2013 § Leave a comment

SX$#@&*;-)! — like a bad case of hemorrhoids — is finally over, and already my mood is soaring to the point of jocularity. So here are some hoary 1870s-1890s Austin jokes. The first one is dedicated to all of our departing SX friends. And don’t let the screen door hit you on your way out. See y’all next year, disfortunately.

G. C. Clark, a musician, committed suicide at Dallas. He shot himself there that he might have the most pleasure in leaving Texas.

Two young men from the hill regions above Austin came out of a certain fashionable hotel when one remarked, “That was the best cold soup I ever tasted,” when his companion, better heeled in city life, remarked that it was ice cream.

We have a few roaches around in our office that strayed over from a boarding house. They are old and industrious, only sleeping a half hour at noon. They are so well trained that every time we ring up the telephone they rush in, thinking it is the dinner bells. Samples furnished free, by sending two three-cent stamps. They make fine mince pies; are frequently used in the hotels and boarding houses for flavoring hash; and, being about the color of preserves and dried apples, they make an excellent mixture for these delicacies. Used in this manner, they make such sweet meats go further with boarders and are used now by hotels and boarding houses everywhere.

The bedbug season is drawing night and the boarders are beginning to select the top of the awnings and house tops on which to sleep.

The festive cockroach, a most amusing “cuss” of the summer season, is slowly retiring from business and is hunting warmer quarters. The cimex lectularius and the mosquito yet remain as lingering visitors.

VERY WISE GIRL.

Small Boy — “Pa, I know why sister wants electric lights in the parlor.”

Pa — “Why?”

Small Boy — “I heard her tell that fellow, Tilly Dickson, that when the electric lights were put in he could stay longer of nights ’cause you’n ma couldn’t tell by seeing how low the oil was in the lamps the next morning.”

Austin Gas Joke.

Sirenda,” said Col. S. Mutchkin, last night, “why don’t you turn the gas up so it will give a light?”

 “Why, papa, every blessed burner in the house is lighted and turned on full.”

 “Ah! So it is, my dear; I hadn’t observed. Then light a candle and bring it here, so that I can see the figure in this gas bill the man left to-day.”

It Wasn’t Gas.

Mr. Swigwell went home last night and saw an unusually brilliant flood of light in the parlor, and said to his daughter:

Starchina, why did you light so many gas jets in the parlor? And how did you get it to burn so brightly tonight? I never saw it so bright before.”

Why, pa,” answered the beautiful Starchina Swigwell, “I never lighted the gas. That’s the moon shining through the east window I opened.”

Well, I thought it strange that our gas had begun to make so much light.”

A Bull Creek girl went into a drug store to buy some taffy-tolu chewing gum. The clerk, trying to be sociable, remarked to her, “It’s a pretty warm day.” “You beecher life,” she explained, “I heered it was 200 degrees below zero.”

The lah-de-dah cigarette smoking young man is affectionately referred to by the Cleveland Leader as “third class male matter.”

“Where are you going, anyhow?” asked an irate conductor on the Central the other day of a “beat” whom he had kicked off five or six times, but who always managed to get on again just as the train started. “Well,” said the fellow quietly, “I’m going to Austin, if my pants hold out.”

A story is told of a fellow who upon learning that Major Penn the evangelist was about to leave San Antonio, inquired whither he was going?

The major replied:

“Well sir, I am going to heaven. I’ve been on the way a long time. Don’t you want to go?”

“No sir, if you’ve been a long time on the road to heaven and not got any further’n Santone, I think you’d better give up the trip, pard, and stop awhile with us.”

 FAREWELL DINNER.

Tendered to Camp Jag by the C.C.C.C.O.

W. Moses, Maitre d’Hotel.
Prince Lewis, Chef; Sam Posey, Asst.

MENU

Old Crow from bottle, Water by Drake

SOUP.

Bean Consumme a la Vance,

Old Crow Sour Mash.

FISH.
Trout, caught by a silver bait by Rossiter,

Eels, speared by Manning Brown, Old Crow Long Toddy.

ENTREES.
Cotton Tail Rabbit au Willie West’s shot gun,

Broiled Bacon a la Moses,

Chicken fricassee, Roosted by Hutchings, Old Crow Short Toddy.

VEGETABLES.

Irish Potatoes, Paddy Malven Style,

Roasting Ears, fresh from field, by Malcom Graham,

Fried Onions in Rose water, Oliver Brush,

Old Crow Toddy.

DESSERT.
Ice Cold Melons, scooped by Drake,

Dried Apple Short Cake au Honey, Jim Smith,

Toddy, Coffee, Tea, Water.

Farewell Speeches and Toasts.

 

PS: Media coverage of SXSW is almost totally hugs and wet, sloppy kisses, with the occasional acknowledgment about many attendees not being to see desired bands.

But on Monday morning, as the aftermath cleanup began, the Austin American Statesman, to its credit, called attention to the black-and-blue side of the event. Paramedics had their busiest night of festival Saturday, responding to 88 emergency calls in the downtown area that included auto-pedicab crashes, fights and drunk people needing medical attention.

Between 3 p.m. Saturday and about 3 a.m. Sunday, Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services reported that it took 39 people to area hospitals.

Based on Friday’s high call volume of 72 incidents and taking 47 people to hospitals, EMS put another ambulance into service on Saturday night.

Even with insurance, a visit to a local emergency room will set you back at least $600 and up to a six-hour wait for medical attention on a busy night. Well, at least no one got killed this year.

Lord Love a Lutheran

March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Understatement of the century: “It’s not in the nature of Lutherans to brag.” In fact, it’s our 11th Commandment. But we do love Lutheran jokes.

You Might Be A Lutheran If… 

…peas in your tuna noodle hotdish add too much color.

….you think a meeting isn’t legitimate unless it’s at least three hours long.

…you make change in the offering plate for a ten.

…you think butter is a spice.

…you have more than five flavors of Jell-O in your pantry.

…doughnuts are in the official church budget.

…they have to rope off the last pews in church so the front isn’t empty.

…you’re watching “Star Wars” in the theatre and when they say, “May the force be with you,” you reply, “and also with you.”

…you can say the meal prayer all in one breath.

…Bach is your favorite composer just because he was Lutheran, too.

…you hesitate to clap for the church choir or special music because “it just wasn’t done that way in the old days.”

…you only serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color for the season.

…rather than introducing yourself to a visitor at church, you check their name out in the guestbook.

…you have your wedding reception in the fellowship hall and feel guilty about not staying to help clean up.

…your LCMS pastor refers to St. Louis as “the holy city.”

…you’re at an evangelistic rally and you actually manage to raise your hands waist high.

…the only mealtime prayer you know is “Come Lord Jesus, Be our guest, and let this food to us be blessed.” (That’s why you can say the meal prayer in one breath.)

…you and your family of six squeeze into the last pew along with the 140 members already sitting there.

…a midlife crisis means switching from the old hymnbook to the new one.

…the pastor skips the last hymn to make sure church lasts exactly 60 minutes.

…you don’t make eye contact when passing someone in the hall because you think it’s impolite.

…in response to someone jumping up and shouting “Praise the Lord!”, you politely remind him or her that we don’t do that around here.

…your mother could give any Jewish mother a run for the money in the guilt department.

…you think lime Jell-O with cottage cheese and pineapple is a gourmet salad.

…you think that an ELCA Lutheran bride and an LCMS groom make for a “mixed marriage.”

…your congregation’s first two operating rules are “Don’t change” and “Don’t spend.”

…every time something changes, the old one was better.

…you freeze the leftover coffee from fellowship hour for next week.

…you think you’re paying your pastor too much if he gets a new car for the first time in eight years.

…you hear something really funny and smile as loud as you can.

…you feel guilty about not feeling guilty.

…change means wearing your brown suit instead of your blue suit to church.

…you read your Catechism and start arguing theology with yourself because no one else is around.

…you know all the words to the first verse of “Silent Night” in German but don’t understand a word of it.

…you have an uncontrollable urge to sit in the back of any room.

When Ole quit farming, he discovered that he was the only Lutheran in his new little town of Catholics. That was okay, but the neighbors had a problem with his barbequing beef every Friday. Since they couldn’t eat meat on Friday, the tempting aroma was getting the best of them. Hoping they could do something to stop this, the neighbors got together and went over to talk to Ole. “Ole,” they said, “since you are the only Lutheran in this whole town and there’s not a Lutheran church for many miles, we think you should join our church and become a Catholic.” Ole thought about it for a minute and decided they were probably right. Ole talked to the priest, and they arranged it.

The big day came and the priest had Ole kneel. He put his hand on Ole’s head and said, “Ole, you were born a Lutheran, you were raised a Lutheran, and now,” he said as he sprinkled some incense over Ole’s head, “now you are a Catholic!”

Ole was happy and the neighbors were happy. But the following Friday evening at suppertime, there was again the aroma of grilled beef coming from Ole’s yard. The neighbors went to talk to him about this and as they approached the fence, they heard Ole saying to the steak: “You were born a beef, you were raised a beef,” and as he sprinkled salt over the meat he said, “and NOW you are a FISH!”

You can take the boy out of the Lutheran church, but you can’t take the Lutheran mindset out of the boy. Once a Lutheran, always a Lutheran. 

Saaa-Lute!

February 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

(Thanks to Hee Haw; the TV show, for all you youngsters.)
February 24, 1876
A marriage was consummated in the Mayor’s court room, a day or two since, which was the affaire of the season. The following is a sample of the answers made by the loving couple: Clergyman, “do you take this woman whom you hold by the hand, to be your lawful wedded wife?” Groom, “Kinder think I do.” “And do you,” addressing the bride,” take this man to be your lawful husband?” Bride, “You bet.” When he had gone through the form, the divine told the happy man that he might salute the bride, to which the groom replied “You can if you like, but I be damned if I want to.”

Only a Fool Would Say (Do) That, Part One

January 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

“A boy with a plan

A natural man

Wearing a white stetson hat.

Unhand that gun, be gone

There’s no one to fire upon.

If he’s holding it high

He’s telling a lie.

I heard it was you

Talkin’ ’bout a world

Where all is free

It just couldn’t be

And only a fool would say that.” – Steely Dan

Now that the “Empire of Dunces” (I use the word “Empire” in deference to those “honorable” [as in “For Brutus is a honorable man”] secessionists who would return us back to the vainglorious days of the Empire of Texas.) is in session again and making a joke of itself, and playing the rest of us for fools, it’s time for me (“us” for the handful of my honorable readers) to have a little fun at the lege’s expense, old school.

November 5, 1866

A number of Tonkaway Indians were on the streets this week in a salubrious condition. We suggest that they now take possession of the Capitol Square and give one of their war dances as an appropriate finale to the closed session of the Eleventh Legislature.

September 25, 1877

Mr. A. Dorris, he of the Twelfth Legislature, was in the city yesterday, and while here he “lit into” a crowd of blacks with a knife and wounded one in the arm. Dorris, it is said, had a little benzine on board and the blacks exasperated the old man by plaguing him. Immediately after he slashed into them with a knife, some one started after an officer to have him arrested, but Dorris got into his wagon and left the city post haste.

June 1882

The Angry Gazette.

The following is what the New York Police Gazette has to say of the Texas legislature: “The small potato legislators of Texas have put a tax of $500 on the vendors of the Police Gazette. If we wished, we could buy out the moral faction of the state, but we would hold them dear at any price, and don’t propose to either purchase them or be blackmailed by the canting crew of political deacons. Such yellow curs may as bay the moon as snarl at us. Both curs and the Gazette will roll on in spite of their howls.”

February 24, 1883

No Extra Charge.

A very loudly dressed female, very much painted up, of the class that is always very numerous in Austin when the Legislature is in session, put in her appearance at the photographic arena of a local artist. She was accompanied by a young puppy, a genuine one, however, with four legs. She stated she wanted a picture of the dog and was told it would cost $2.

How much will you charge extra, if I can take in the picture?” she asked.

There will be no extra charge whatever, I don’t charge any more for one dog than I do for the both of you.”

April 15, 1883

Friday morning, the mayor, for the first time in four or five years, had no cases of any kind before him. By the way, the legislature adjourned Friday morning.

May 29, 1883

It is definitely known to the Evening News that indictments have been returned against many members of the legislature for poker playing. We do not believe these gentlemen are guilty of any violation of the spirit of the law against gaming, and we will have some plain talk on this subject soon.

January 9, 1884

At legislator’s headquarters today at 12, chili con carne.

The pressure on the gas tank needs screwing down, or something to make lights stronger. If the works are inadequate to the demand, attach a pipe to the legislature. [Editor’s note: Austin was then lighted by coal gas, which was known and derided for putting out but little light.]

(More legislative fun to come … )

Reach Out and Touch (Hear, See, Smell, Feel) Someone

October 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Reach Out and Touch Someone”: one of the most famous advertising slogans of modern times (or, courtesy of my brilliant juvenile wit, “Reach Out and Hit Someone”), although it had nothing to do with the tactile sense. It was ATT’s come-on to use their long-distance telephone service, back in the day when phones had cords and you had one ring tone and one long distance service to choose from, take it or leave it.

The ubiquity of the telephone today is such that there are places in the world where cell phones outnumber homes with running water and electricity. More people in developing countries use cell phones than people in developed areas. Currently, over 500 million people living in Sub-Saharan Africa lack power in their homes, but 22 percent of households in the region have mobile phones. Therefore, many people have to walk long distances to charging stations, and pay between 50 cents and a dollar per charge. Scientists and technologists have been at work developing local charging alternatives.

Car batteries and bicycles are commonly rigged to charge cell phones; Nokia has created a bike-powered cell phone charger. Solar panel charging is another alternative. A Harvard team is developing a microbial fuel cell-based mobile phone charger that would allow people in developing nations to charge their phones using the microbes in dirt and manure from their livestock. If the project proves successful, they will be able to build the charger itself in just a few minutes, using readily available materials such as window screens and soda cans, for less than a dollar. It should be able to fully charge a phone within 24 hours.

The cell phone is revolutionizing life in these areas in ways that most Americans cannot comprehend or appreciate.

The humble little Nokia 1100 “candybar” phone and its siblings, abandoned by most Americans more than a decade ago, is still the best-selling cell phone in world history and is the phone of choice in developing countries because of its ruggedness, simplicity and long battery life. Despite the obvious siren call of the smart phone, I still rely on an 1100. Among other things, I like the fact that it stays charged for a week instead of a day, and when I drop it on the floor, it falls apart in pieces that I can snap back together in seconds, instead of throwing away like my daughter did the other day after she dropped her iPhone as she rode her bicycle to school, yakking with a friend.

In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine predicted that one day in the future, state-of-the-art computers, like the ENIAC – which weighed 30 tons at the time — would weigh only a ton and a half. Computers used vacuum tubes at the time, and the transistor, which in turn begat the semiconductor, was not even a gleam in someone’s eye yet. Nowadays, that iPhone is millions of times more powerful than that 30-ton ENIAC of yore.

And I dare say that most Americans — especially the young people who use smartphones to send hundreds of pointless text messages to their friends every day, as well as pictures they have snapped of themselves in various compromising positions and states of dress, undress, and duress (if you’re into bondage) — take all of this technological wonder for granted.

Folks just aren’t awed by technological advances like they used to be. Which is sad, for the smartphone is a manifestation and amalgamation of at least six of the greatest technological advances in the last 170 years: photography, the telephone, electricity, recorded sound, video, and computation, along with that hoary medieval wonder, typography.

The decades following the Civil War were an age of technological wonder, held in an awe not seen today. As long as we’re on the subject of telephones and manure, let’s take a look at the early, awesome years of the telephone in little old Austin, Texas.

Alexander Graham Bell is commonly credited as the inventor of the first practical telephone. In June 1876, Bell exhibited a telephone prototype at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. By the summer of 1877, the telephone had become a business. The first private lines, which typically connected a businessman’s home and his office, had been placed in service. And the hue and cry for telephone service in Austin began soon after, although it would be several years before local lusts would be fulfilled.

There was a common understanding of just how momentous the inauguration of telephone service would be, but also some misunderstanding as just what the telephone could – and couldn’t – do.

On July 17, 1880, the Austin Statesman noted, “When that little telephone business is in full operation, we will have to be careful how we talk.”

And on April 12, 1881: “Jones, of the commercial college, will soon have the telephones at work and a world of trouble be saved. You can telephone orders for wood, groceries, etc.”

By June 11, 1881, “A few of the population can now telephone each other. Doubting Thomases are informed that when they telephone their wives they are compelled to remain down town to attend lodge, the smell of cloves and coffee will not be conveyed over the wires, as first thought.”

January 10, 1882

The telephone is one of the greatest conveniences known to modern times, and Austin is fortunate to have so affable and courteous a gentleman as Mr. Jones as general manager.

Nowadays, saying “hello” when you answer the phone seems as natural as falling off a bike (although “yeah” is creeping up the charts). But in the early days, there was considerable debate as to how a telephone should be properly answered. Alexander Graham Bell hoped people would answer the phone with the word “ahoy.” The first public telephone exchange, opened in New Haven on Jan. 28, 1878, wavered between “hello” and the fusty “What is wanted?” in its manual. In “A Telephonic Conversation,” a comic sketch written in 1880, Mark Twain reproduced half of an imaginary telephone conversation, with “hello” making an appearance. It represents the first known use of the word in a work of literature. By 1882, “hello” had won out (The Simpsons’ C. Montgomery Burns’ “Ahoy-hoy” notwithstanding), as noted by the Statesman on May 28, 1882: “No telephone will work well unless you say ‘Hello’ as soon as you ring the bell. This should not be neglected.”

For the better part of a century, the telephone directory, along with the Bible, was a staple in Austin households. Then came the day in January 2010 that shook the world: when ATT announced it would no longer include the residential “white pages” listings in its ubiquitous “phonebook,” leaving us with only the “Yellow Pages.”

This was a veritable sea change, compared with August 29, 1882, when the Statesman excitedly announced, “The Austin telephone company is having a new and corrected list of stations prepared, and it is especially desired by the manager that all those contemplating subscribing will do so at once, in order that their names may appear therein. The exchange is a very great convenience to the city, which is the secret of its most liberal patronage.”

By October 1, 1882, there were upwards of 120 telephone stations in the city and the number steadily increasing. Austin already had a greater number of telephone stations than Houston.

But despite the telephone’s increasing numbers and familiarity, Austinites were slow to abandon their notions of its supernatural powers. “It looks suspicious to see a man always take a clove before answering the telephone,” the Statesman said, clove in cheek, on November 30, 1882.

People obviously thought the telephone capable of miraculous doings, and it would be 80 years before “Smello-vision,” a system that released odors during the projection of a film so that the viewer could “smell” what was happening in the movie, began to waft into American lives.

And now, with the continuing convergence of technologies in the smartphone, you may finally have to worry about onion breath when you call your sweetie. And who knows, soon you might finally be able to touch, as well as smell, them.

But as has often been the case with the public’s love affair with new technologies, the scent was soon (at least partially) off the rose, as the Statesman noted on January 31, 1883: “The telephone wires are renewed and put in good order and the morality of the telephone has wonderfully improved, as far as the language used is concerned.” It was, as we shall see, the first of many service complaints to come.

Such as on April 11, 1883:”The telephones have not been working very well for the past few days; at least, people who try to ring up one person and find themselves jarring the tympanum in the ears of half the people in town, do not consider it good telephone work. We are not an expert in regulating telephones and do not know what the cause of the disarrangement is, but point it out at the suggestion of a large number of people so that it can be remedied.”

As with many new technologies, it can take years to iron out all the kinks.

September 25, 1888

The Humming Telephones.

Telephones in this city after night are an unmitigated nuisance. They hum and roar until it is positively painful to put your ear to them. It is said that it is caused by the proximity of the electric light wire. If this is true is it not dangerous to handle the ‘phones after dark?

October 13, 1888

Buzzing Telephones.

It is often impossible to get a message through the telephone at night, owing it is said to the close proximity of the electric wires to the telephone wires. Some weeks since, in answer to a number of complaints, the superintendent of the telephone company stated that efforts were being made to obviate the difficulty and that very soon, it was hoped, the problem of how to overcome the bussing made by the wires would be solved. As much as to say the public would have to bear with the company until they had discovered the remedy. Now, this would place relief too far off. It may be years before it is discovered how to regulate the transmission of sound so as to prevent confusion when more than one sound is made at a time.

And where there are complaints, there are usually jokes, such as this one.

Tried To Show Her.

A good joke is told of an Austin young man who overrated the powers of the telephone.

He had an engagement to take his sweetheart to a sociable, but, happening to an accident on the way to her house, he went to a near telephone to explain to her why he couldn’t fill his engagement.

Going to the instrument he called the inevitable “Hello!”

“Hello again!” came in softest accents.

“Is that you Miss Eula?”

“Yes; is that you, DeWitt?”

“Yes. Say, Miss Eula, I’ve met with a serious accident, and can’t come.”

“O, DeWitt! What is it? Are you hurt much?”

“No, not hurt at all; but –”

“Then, why can’t you come? If you’re not hurt, what is the matter? Please tell me,” with great anxiety and curiosity.

“O, it ain’t much. I’ll tell you some of these days.”

“No, I want to know. I’ll be mad now if you don’t tell me. What is it?” This time make the telephone howl and vibrate.

“Well, if you must know, I’ve torn my best pants from the Rio Grande to the Red River.

“Just look there,” and he raised his coat and turned towards the telephone amidst the roar of laughter from the few who were gathered around. He thought his girl could see through the telephone in his excitement.

They haven’t met since.

Every new technology has unexpected consequences and new uses as it evolves. To wit:

May 31, 1883

BREVITY.

The tendency of the age is abbreviation. Steamships are steadily shortening voyages across the ocean; railways are shortening voyages across the land. The telegraph is shortening the intervals of intercourse. The telephone is shortening the abbreviations of the telegraph.

October 27, 1887

Mr. Malch, a young man, was tried before Judge Brackenridge yesterday afternoon on a charge of lunacy. His peculiar weakness seems to be a belief that there is a telephone inside of him which is all the time singing and calling up people who want to kill him. His mania has not been of long duration and there is a chance that he may be cured, but chances are if he were allowed to run at large he might do damage.

By 1889, fashionable young men were serenading their lady loves over the phone.

By 1949, Dick Tracy was using his wristwatch phone to catch crooks.

By 2009, risqué young fashionistas were strip teasing for their beaus over their smartphone.

When Sam Morse first tapped out in 1844, “What hath God wrought?” he set the stage for the miracles of telephony to come. In light of some of the excesses that have come to pass, courtesy of telephony, I’ll close for now by asking, “What rot hath God?”

“Funyuns,” or “Have you heard the one about the country man from Onion Creek … ?”

October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

The Funyun is a ring-shaped, onion-flavored snack consisting primarily of cornmeal, produced using an  extrusion process, usurping the shape and texture of fried onion rings. A salt and onion mix give them their flavor. One of the most disgusting snack foods of modern times, IMHO; YMMV. But each to his or her own.

The Funyun serves, in a round-about way, to introduce today’s subject, the past history of poking fun at the Onion Creek community. Onion Creek rises in far western Hays County and empties into the Colorado River just east of Austin. Today, Onion Creek is an upscale residential community located east of Interstate Highway 35 about six miles south of downtown Austin in south central Travis County dating back to the early 1970s. This area had been settled as early as the 1850s when the Onion Creek Masonic Lodge was chartered, and Onion Creek Cemetery, also known as Boggy Creek Cemetery, dates to the 1880s.

Before there were Aggie jokes, Austinites laughed at Onion Creek jokes. “Countrymen,” as rural folks were referred to by urban sophisticators a century and more ago, were generally the butt of Austin humor, but none more so than those living on Onion Creek back in the 1880s. The reason why is long lost to time, but a month seldom passed without at least one Onion creek joke in the Austin Statesman, Texas Siftings, or any of the other Austin newspapers of the time. The following all date from the period 1881-83.

He Had Just Had One.

“Don’t you want a glass?” asked the man who rents opera glasses at the Austin opera house of a countryman from Onion creek.

“Don’t care if I do take a glass after the show is over, but ain’t thirsty now; just had one.”

Don’t Know Any News – Man Shot Near Austin

“You picked the pecans on Onion creek, you say?” said an Austin reporter yesterday to a young man on a wagon filled with pecans.

“Yes, sir,” he replied, “that’s where they came from.”

“Many up there?”

“Plenty of them.”

“Believe I’ll try a few,” quizzed the reporter, taking a big handful of the pecans.

“I’ll sell you the whole peck for fifty cents,” said the man, with swelling eyes.

“Only want a few. Say, do you know any news?”

“Not a bit, sir; everything is very dull up our way.”

“Don’t you know anything?”

“Well, I believe I heard some news yesterday.”

“What was it,” asked the reporter, cracking a pecan.

“There was a man got 18 buckshot in him where I live.”

“Who shot him?”

“I did.”

“What did you shoot him for?” asked the reporter aghast.

“For stealing some of my pecans out of my wagon,” said the countryman, reaching under the seat for his shotgun.

The reporter hastily replaced the pecans in the wagon, and after calling the countryman “Colonel,” disappeared around the corner. That evening he told his employers that they must insure his life or $50,000, or he would resign.

A New Brand of Smoking Tobacco.

A rough-looking customer from Onion creek came into a tobacco store on Congress Avenue and said he wanted some smoking tobacco.

“What brand do you prefer?” asked the tobacconist.

“I want a package of Emergency.”

“Emergency? I never heard of any such tobacco.”

“All I know,” said the man from the country, “is that Uncle Bill had the toothache last night, and smoked all night, and I asked him which was the best kind of tobacco; and he said no tobacco was equal to the Emergency. So I thought if none of ’em was equal to Emergency, that must be the best the market affords. If you haven’t got the Emergency, I reckon I’ll have to try some other store.”

********************

We do not know how much good or bad the legislature has thus far accomplished. They are still grinding away, but the grinding is like unto the turning of the crank on a peanut roaster. A countryman from Onion creek watched a man who was turning the handle on a peanut roaster steadily for half an hour and then he asked:

When are you going to play a tune?

He had taken the peanut roaster for a hand organ. The legislators are still turning the crank, but we are unable to determine just yet whether it is a hand organ for the amusement of the people or a peanut roaster for their own private profit.

PRIZE CANDY

A lad went through the Houston and Texas Central train lately, distributing prize packages of candy, and, on returning to gather them up, found a countryman from Onion creek complacently disposing of the contents of the package that had been dropped upon his seat.

The lad waited and held out his hand for ten cents. The countryman stopped eating long enough to ask what was wanted.

“I want pay for that candy,” said the boy.

“For this candy?” said the countryman. “Why, gol durn yew, didn’t yew heave it into the seat to me?”

“Yes,” answered the boy; “but you must pay for it if you want it.”

The countryman sat in utter astonishment, then slowly opening his mouth, he dropped into the open paper a mouthful of half-masticated fragments, and handed the package back, re marking: “Take yer sugar candy, iffen yew want it; but iffen yew heave it at me again I’ll swallow it hull, by thunder!”

The lad dogged the countryman to Giddings for his ten cents, but didn’t get them. The scene furnished great sport for the passengers.

AUSTIN’S “NATURAL BORN LIARS.”

The Austin correspondent of the Galveston News was looking at a fruit piece in the window of a picture store when he was joined by a bluff old countryman from Onion creek, and a dialogue ensued which is best told in the words of one of the actors:

“Whut is the pitchur worth, Cap’n?” said the rural critic.

“Probably $25,” I answered, “maybe more.”

“Twenny-five dollars! Shore!” said the old man; “I got a barn full of the gin-u-wine fruit, which I’ll sell fer 75 cents a bar’l.”

“Possibly,” I said, “but there are plenty of people in Austin who would not think $25 an exorbitant price for that piece. Indeed, there are several men of this city who own picture galleries which have cost them large fortunes. Governor Pease has, I believe, a gallery of paintings which are valued at something like $5,000, and possibly are worth more,” I replied.

The old man looked hard at me, evidently thinking I was giving him “taffy” of the most extravagant kind. Then he laid his big hand upon my arm and said: “Son, this morning I wuz in a grocery store, and a little bell struck, and a clerk grabbed a little handle and hollered ‘Hello!’ in it, and talked in it, too. When I ast him what he did that fer, he said he was talking to another man in a store a half mile away. I went out and bought my goods of a man I could trust. Now you’re fillin’ me up with a goldurn yarn about pitchurs. Austin has got the all-firedest lot of natural born liars of any town in these diggin’s, and don’t yew fergit it.”

Bull Creekers came in for their own share of ribbing as well.

A Bull Creek girl went into a drug store to buy some taffy-tolu chewing gum. The clerk, trying to be sociable, remarked to her, “It’s a pretty warm day.” “You beecher life,” she explained, “I heered it was 200 degrees below zero.”

A Spoonerful of Punny

September 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the great paradoxes of humor is the pun. So clever, yet so base. To wit (or witless):

A pun is the lowest form of humor, unless you thought of it yourself.  ~Doug Larson

Punning and groaning are brothers.  ~B.F. Tucson

Despite the fact that O. Henry is one of my favorite writers and the acknowledged master of the pun, I for one, care less for them. Get thee to a punnery! I am spooney for spoonerisms.

“A spoonerism,” to quote Wikipedia, “is an error in speech or deliberate play on words in which corresponding consonants, vowels, or morphemes are switched. It is named after the Reverend William Archibald Spooner (1844–1930), Warden of New College, Oxford, who was notoriously prone to this tendency. While spoonerisms are commonly heard as slips of the tongue resulting from unintentionally getting one’s words in a tangle, they can also be used intentionally as a play on words. Spoonerisms are commonly used intentionally in humour.”

These are some of the hoariest (or whoriest, if you prefer – excuse the pun) spoonerisms.

“Three cheers for our queer old dean!” (dear old queen, referring to Queen Victoria)

“Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” (customary to kiss)

“The Lord is a shoving leopard.” (a loving shepherd)

“A blushing crow.” (crushing blow)

“A well-boiled icicle” (well-oiled bicycle)

I relish these time-honored tongue slippers as much as anyone, but I am not one to stand on tradition when there is so much new ground on which to tread.

Spoonerisms can turn up anywhere in daily life; to find them, you must always be on the lookout for them, like four-leaf clovers or dollar bills in the gutter. Whenever two or three words come together, you may very well find word-play playmates.

Here are some of my favorite spoonerizable phrases picked out from the gutter of daily life. Now that you know how to play the game, try them on for size. Remember, it’s the sound, not the spelling, that counts. Warning: some of them involve explicitly base and/or crude slang language, so Spooner beware!

Dinah Shore

Food Mart

Doodle Town Pipers

Man versus Food

Scottie Pippin

Ella Fitzgerald

Rick Santorum

Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Turkey Jerky

Bea Flagg

Bell and Howell

Bud Powell

Hang Dog

Ace of Cakes

Wu Tang Clan

Crips and Bloods

Suze Orman

Slap Chop

Pussy Willow

Dog and Suds

Red Hots

Rob Nash

Honey Bears

Snack Crackers

Gunther Packs a Stiffy (You will have to think outside the pants to solve this one.)

Birth of a Notion

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

It is the dream of every word hack to introduce a new word or phrase to the English language, a feat more highly prized than even the elusive one-result Google search.

A few years ago, I thought I had finally found my golden fleece, when I thought up “pink elephant Republican,” an obvious corollary to the old term, “yellow dog democrat.” Flush with the feeling of victory, I did some Googling to confirm the originality of my wit, only to discover that someone else had beat me to the phrase, just a measly handful of days before. Depressed but undaunted, I vowed to continue my quest, and I have finally triumphed.

But before I raise the curtains …

Awhile back, we explored the phenomenon of slang, past and present. All new words, including mine, that are introduced into the language are — pro forma — slang, until they either pass into the mainstream or are tossed into the ragbag of time, like so many Nehru jackets or leisure suits.

So, before I reveal my new word to an unsuspecting (and perhaps uncaring) world, let us turn back the pages of slang again, to 130 years ago, and re-examine the perils involved:

“Slang is a dangerous language. Recently, when a handsome young wife went to a hardware store to get one of those wooden contrivances to mash potatoes, and said, ‘I want a masher,’ every man in the shop from the boss, to the office boy, started to wait on her.”

And now, without further adoo doo, I present:

Sillygance (Also sp. Silligance) 1. Lack of grace and refinement in appearance, movement or manners. 2. Frivolous or tasteless opulence in form, decoration or presentation. 3. Lack of restraint in style. 4. Something stupid. Example of use: Snooki and Donald Trump have reached the height of sillygance.

So there it is. Use at your risk or pleasure. Free of charge. No strings or royalties attached. And if you don’t like it, go out and make up your own word and see whether anyone cares.

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