Date: Tue, 18 Nov 1997 13:00:27 -0600
From: "Donald M. Lance" engdl[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]SHOWME.MISSOURI.EDU
Subject: Re: Merzouri
This is from The Besom (Univ. of Cal.-Berkeley), 6 November 1876, pg. 2,
"THE CHAP FROM BARKALEE"
A LEGEND OF POKER FLAT, WRITTEN BY A RESIDENT.
His clothes wuz new, o' the Frisco cut,
His shirt was new an' biled,
An' the way he jingled his coin around,
The fellers some'at riled.
So ole Bill Smith, a Merzouri man,
Wot lives way up on the Run,
He smiled out loud, an' all the crowd,
Woke up to see the fun.
The -ar- in the title of this poem raises an interesting question. Is the
poet playing around with British spelling? If so, then the -er- in
'Merzouri' may simply refer to the schwa sound as opposed to an i-sound, as
we see in British spellings of the hesitation marker 'er' where Americans
would use 'uh'.
Just what does 'er' spell? In the 3 August 1850 _Spirit_of_the_Times_, a
newspaper in Columbia SC, someone with the pseudonym "Spoondrift" published
a yarn about a "Cracker" who brought a load of potatoes and turnips to the
open market in "C---" and announced his produce with a bold sign saying
"pertaters and ternups." A local doctor made merciless fun of the
"Cracker," who left in anger after several hours, not having sold any of
his produce. The doctor had sent numerous people to the poor fellow asking
if he had any "aiggs" or "eggs." The story ends with the Cracker telling
another potential customer, threatening him with a well worn knife,
"Pertaters end ternups, Mabin--but don't yer say aiggs, Mabin! Ef yer do,
I'll sample yer gizzard!"
The puzzle. Not too hard. This was South Carolina, where r-lessness and
r-fulness overlapped, If the spelling is accurate, the fellow had the same
vowel in the first and last syllables of 'potatoes' and the first syllable
of 'turnips' as well as in 'you' and 'your'. So, what was it? Not what
present-day literal-minded Americans assume, but a schwa-like sound that
the British represent with 'er' and some 19th-century American writers also
represented with 'er'. The words that provide the clinching evidence are
the two instances of 'you', which I really doubt were pronounced as
Those of you who are GVS spelling fans, note the doubling of the -g- in
'aiggs' to mark (redundantly) the lengthened and raised vowel. These
spellings weren't haphazard.
This story is on pp. 99-102 of TALL TALES OF THE SOUTHWEST, edited by
Franklin J. Meine (Knopf, 1930). There's a new edition of the book out
now, but I don't have it and can't say whether this story is in the new
This book also has an article (set in 1848 during the "Mexican War") from
MAJOR JONES'S COURTSHIP (New York, 1872), by William T. Thompson, "The
Hoosier and the Salt Pile." The Hoosier was a "cattleman from Indiany" on
a train between Warrenton and Milledgeville GA. He was on his way to New
Orleans seeking a government contract for beef. He is treated as a brash,
not well educated, swearing, lout who was generally not well liked by his
coachmates. Those of you who are researching this term might be interested
in following up this lead. I don't know when Thompson actually wrote the
This book on "Flush Times in the Old Southwest [Ala, Miss, LA, Ark]" is a
valuable resource for dialectologists. Lots of dialect spelling.