often seem to be an impractical fancy of
(pseudo)intellectuals and/or nerds. After all, Esperanto
, perhaps the most famous
, is not exactly popular with the man on the street, and let's not
even get started on people who speak Klingon
. Trying to imagine a
created language often brings up images, too, of Tolkien
tongues, seemingly detached from reality. However, Boontling represents a
invented by the common man, or rather, woman: its origins can be
traced back to women working in a hops field, coming up with slang
to use for
sharing secret gossip.
Boontling was invented around 1880 in the Anderson Valley
town of Boonville,
, and flourished for about 40 years. Some residents of the area used
Boontling as their primary language, and had difficulty with standard English
required to speak it. Boontling consists of about 1300 unique words
. The "lingo
" draws on numerous sources and linguistic
principles for its broad lexicon
- Other Languages: Boontling borrows from non-English languages spoken in the
Anderson Valley area -- some words derive from Spanish and Pomo Indian. Others are
rooted in Scotch-Irish dialects, such as "kimmie," the word for "man."
- Figures of Speech: Some Boontling words are based on
English expressions, taken to the next level. "Briney," the word for "ocean," comes
from "the briney deep," a colorful nautical cliche.
- Onomatopoeia: Words that sound like their meanings. For example, to ride
a horse in Boontling is to keloppity and to ride a train is to kelockity.
- Phonetic Refiguring: In Boontling, "dime" and "time"
become "deem" and "teem," and to be in love with someone is to be "stook on"
- Proper Names: Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Boontling. Locals who
had outstanding traits often became the basis for new words. A cook nicknamed Zeese
because of his initials, Z.C., was so renowned for his strong coffee that his name is
now a synonym for the beverage. A doctor is called a "shoveltooth" because of a
local doctor's prominent buck teeth.
- Compound Words: When no specfic Boontling word exists for a concept, it can
often be defined by a compound or phrase. For example, gasoline is described as "moshe
gorms" -- "car food."
About 15% of Boontling words are for potentially inappropriate
over from the language's original use. For fun
, here's a short list:
bulrusher: illegitimate child
burlap: sexual intercourse
ose: rear end
to kill, to maim
These days, it's hard to find many people who speak Boontling, and it is well on its
way to being a dead language
. However, a few remnants of the lingo remain in
Anderson Valley -- public pay phones are designated "Bucky Walters," or "nickel
telephones." Also, the Anderson Valley Brewing Company has named some of its ales
after the Boontling words for various valley regions. Some local "codgies" (old
people) are also doing their best to preserve
language by passing it
on to children and grandchildren.
If you'd like to harp the ling, some resources are listed below: