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Boontling a California Dialect

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"Boontling a California Dialect"
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North of San Francisco is the cool sparsely-settled Anderson Valley. It cuts through the Mendocino plateau to the sea, and nowadays good pinot noir comes from there. People from the urban Bay Area go there for romantic week-ends, to see the wildflowers in Boshe-bird time, to taste wine, and to hear quaint talk.

The Anderson Valley is the home of Boontling, a dialect that's mostly died out in actual use, but that still flavors the conversation in Boonville (population 700) and in surrounding villages.

No one knows for sure how "harpin Boontling" started. The linguist Charles C. Adams wrote a book calling it a "deliberately contrived jargon," but whether it was contrived by adults trying to gossip privately, or by children keeping their parents out of the conversation, or some other way, nobody knows.

Some say it began among the workers in the hop fields. It seems to have originated around 1880, and flourished until about 1920, as far as anyone can tell. At least, no outsider knows. Old residents speak it amongst themselves now, and some of the old- hippies who have settled in the area know at least the 1300 published words.

Bootling incorporates words from Scottish and Irish; a bit of Pomo, the local Native American tongue; and some Spanish. Although there is a dictionary on line, it is really a purely spoken dialect. Lots of its words were formed by cutting and pasting together English words. A featherleg, for instance, is a cocky person looking for a fight. The lingo is clever, witty and observant: someone who is angry is can-kicky. Words for local landscape and experience abound. Some bald hills near Boonville are called The Drearies. The cruelest words in Boontling might be the many terms that were made from the names of people in this small community: Madge, for example, was a local madam, and madge means a prostitute, or to visit a prostitute.

At a more than two hour drive from San Francisco, it is unlikely that the Anderson Valley will ever be a bland suburb, but of course the local ways have changed somewhat. Some sheep ranches are vineyards now, and the wine-growers have an association. It is said that marijuana grows back in the redwood groves. Tourists come, and they stay in quaint inns. The locals enjoy them, in a way.

You'll often see a tourist and a resident in a conversation. One phrase to describe it is:"A brightlighter in for a sharkin by a bahlest Boonter." In other words, it's handy for the locals when the visitors find them quaint and slow.

Boontling: An American Lingo ISBN: 0-939665-05-0


More about this author: Janet Grischy

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