Being a born and bred native Texan, I sometimes have to stop and consider some of the idioms or sayings that I use routinely without even a second thought. Folk who are not from around here sometime have a difficult time with the sayings that we natives all use. As one northerner once put it, “My brain hurts, but I get it now.”
Sometimes in my writing I tend to lapse into my “mother tongue” because for me “Texan” is the one true language. Let’s look at a few true Texan phrases and what they mean.
A Texan might exclaim “I tell you what!” It is like saying, “Well, my goodness!” It can express pleasure, disgust, or dismay. Don’t sit waiting for an answer because most true Texans never actually “tell you what”.
If a person is called a “ring-tailed tooter’ he/she is a person out of control or bad beyond belief. “A real piece of work” is an interchangeable expression. You might hear a statement like this, “That Britney Spears is a ring-tailed tooter, ain’t she?” This statement would be answered with “I tell you what!”
Let’s take a closer look at the Texan phrase “Boy Howdy”. I am sure that you have heard it when someone expresses anger or awe. But, where did the phrase come from? You may find this hard to believe, but it has it’s origin with the TV show “Howdy Doody”, a 1950s kiddies program which featured Buffalo Bob and Clarabelle the clown.
Actually “Howdy Doody” and “Boy Howdy” are related. The “Howdy” in “Boy Howdy” is the same word as in “Howdy Doody”, the name of the marionette that starred in the TV show. “Howdy” is a short form of the phrase “How do you do?” which is a social greeting that dates back to the 16th century England.
The term “howdy” took root in the Southern U.S. in the 19th century and was carried West by veterans of the U. S. Civil war. “Howdy Doody” is simply another form of “how do you do?” Although “howdy” as a greeting is usually associated with the West, it is actually used all over the U. S. today. Actually I often hear myself blurt “howdy” when I’m passed on the street by someone who has a stronger memory of me that I have of them.
“Boy Howdy” is another Southernism, usually attributed to Texans. It is a simple combination of the exclamation “Boy!” (indicating surprise), and our friend “Howdy” used together to mean “Wow!”, or to indicate strong agreement with a statement or question.
The phrase seems to have been popularized in the years after World War I when returning soldiers, who had heard it from Texans in the service, brought it back to civilian life.
Speaking of exclamations, the interjection “boy!” is used to introduce and emphasize a statement since the early 20th century. Its original function was simply to catch the listener’s attention, equivalent to saying “Hey, mister…” But, today “boy” used this way signal that the speaker considers what follows to be important or surprising, i.e. “Boy, I never thought they’d actually fire me!”
You might hear something that sounds like “I mona”. Since Texan tongues can be very lazy, that expression means “I’m going to”, or “I’m gonna”, as in “I mona get another cup of coffee.” Now, I “mona” stop writing this little article and think of other strange Texas sayings. Ah, Texas – the land of mystery.