Montana Lingo, Dos and Donts

Angus Thinking About Being Gnarly

A Few Tips if You Are Coming to Montana or just reading this Blog:

Montana  is where an “outfit” is something you drive, not wear;  where “gant” means hungry and not a well-known shirt maker;  where a #2 Mexican Drag Line is a shovel and not second-string Carmen Miranda impersonators and “Casting a Cow”  means tying her down on the ground rather than getting her a good part in “City Slickers  IV”.

1. Locals don’t use  “pissy” as in “Boy was he pissy this morning!”  Instead they use  “gnarly”, “owly”, “snaky”, “high-headed” or  “on the prod”.   I definitely get  “owly” (wide eyed)  when I talk politics.  I start pawing the ground and rearing my head just like one of my cows.  My husband then usually herds  me out of the room before I “take somebody”.

2. Cowboy Up” is a much used term for a kind of stoicism that at its best is about “making do”.  It means “get on with it” instead of standing around whining.  The hay has to be cut, the cows need to be fed, and whenever something breaks, you just fix it.  The flip side of this Cowboy way is to not go to a doctor until there is a bone sticking out of your pants leg.  The term also comes in handy for a rancher whenever his wife needs something done around the house.
Maven:   “Honey, the plumbing just broke.
Mike: “Oh, Cowboy up .   Just use the bushes.”

2a.  Other “up” words include “prove up” which means that you’ve proven that you’re OK by wrestling a calf to the ground without getting shit all over the back of your jeans.  You have to “prove up” almost every year with increasingly difficult tasks like keeping a smile on your face while trying to choke down some chewy soggy fried calves’ nuts.  (I prefer mine sauteed in a little white wine and served with a shallot saffron cream sauce. Yum.)

3.  “Nice speakin’ atcha” is used instead of “Goodbye”

4. Most people in the country have no addresses but  live on or near a creek (pronounced “crik”) which can be upper or lower or east or west.  Gets a bit confusing at  times.  “Turn left where Upper Deer Creek joins Lower Otter;  a ways past  East Porcupine on the way to the West Beaver.”   Try that after 3 Margaritas!

5.  You’ll rarely see anyone walking down the street in town. ( “Why walk when you can ride?” ).  So you’ll see someone in Big Timber,  for  example, get into the car at the Post Office,  drive a half a block down,  park and get out to go into the Ben Franklin.  Then, if they have to go to Cole Drug which is kitty corner to where they are , they will need  to jump in the car, turn right  on 2nd Street and then circle round the block in order to park in the right direction in front of the drug store.

8.While driving,  put your  index finger even with your nose and then give a slight point away from your face when a familiar “outfit” goes by or even if you don’t know who the hell it was.  This custom comes from tipping one’s hat to say “Howdy”.

9. Never tap a cowboy on his shoulder from behind, he’s libel to turn and deck you.
Be especially careful during Rodeo Week.  And never, never touch his hat.

9a. Never call a rancher’s spread, a farm.  Farmers live east and north of here.

9b.  Remember;  the bigger the hat, the smaller the…. spread.

10. Montanans are generally some of the most independent people one can meet  in the good old USA.   On the plus side, they won’t bother you much and on the minus side it can make them a bit ornery.  Discuss politics and wear wolf T-Shirts at your peril.

11.  Bunny Huggers are much reviled by locals.  They are assumed to be mostly from
California or occasionally from out East (which my husband says is anywhere east of Miles City, Montana).  They are seen as responsible for wolves in Yellowstone, high property values, lines at supermarkets, shorts on people who shouldn’t wear them, floods, droughts (pronounced drouth here)  and pestilence.

11.  Be prepared to be considered a g.d bunny hugger a.k.a. g.d. tree hugger a.k.a
g.d Californian until  you exchange a beer or two.  Then you’ll be deemed a “nice fella or gal” even if you are a g.d. bunny-tree-huggin-Californian.

A final word of advice:  Don’t try to fit in.    It just won’t work.  Enjoy the differences just like you would in  any foreign country like Italy  or Taiwan.    Just like anywhere else people are pretty much bunched into three categories;  the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  And just like in that movie by Clint, goodness   is not easy to recognize   right  off the bat or hat, so to speak (although I still believe that hairdo can be  an indicator of wholeness and well-being and I am beginning to think that the simpler the “do”, the happier the person).    So respect the local customs and enjoy a return to the kick of cholesterol.

So, that’ll do ‘er.  It won’t be a bad-type-deal at all havin’ you here.  Yoooooou Betcha!

Old Outhouse on the Ranch

5 responses to “Montana Lingo, Dos and Donts

  1. Well pardner, you have a definite talent. Keep it up and maybe we will all come to understand the strange and wonderful place called Montana a little better. Don’t forget to keep your rope on the saddle to deal with the ornery BT right wingers.

    Hang em high.


  2. I enjoy your writing. Things aren’t so different there from the panhandle of Texas. My people had 12 contiguous sections and I used to hunt quail from horseback along Wolf Creek. We’d throw hay on the flatbed, put ‘er in low, tie the wheel down, climb in the back and toss hay. There warn’t nuthin but prairie dog holes between us and the horizon. That land passed another direction over time and deaths….and what I have left is 160 acres in OK.

    It may be the bigger the hat the smaller the spread. I just look at the hands. Working hands have character.

    • I would think you’d need 112 sections (640 acres or one square mile) in that kind of country. It takes a lot of acres of dry land to run one cow. It was Jefferson’s idea to divide things into sections and also to give land away to settlers who would develop the land. But Jefferson was for expansion and the later American School of political economy felt that we should have a city/state kind of nation. In other words, we should have strong manufacturing centers with good wages with the country surrounding these urban areas as producers of food for the factory and urban workers. I recently discovered this American School in a book by Michael Hudson called “The Protectionist Takeoff 1815-1914”. He calls it the neglected school and probably it is neglected on purpose. It kind of turns Jeffersonian agrarian worship on its head. The idea of a nation of farmers exporting their crops and then importing manufactured goods like furniture, hammers, etc sounds like a colony, not a new experiment. The American School sounds more…well…American. Instead of pushing relentlessly West and trying to develop arid Western land, it really might have been better to keep agriculture as local as possible to the cities. And I love the idea that this school had a vision of a high wage society that would replace the pauper wage system of England. Jefferson did later change his mind. He wrote in 1816 “we have experienced what we did not then believe, that there exist both profligacy and power enough to exclude us from the field of exchanges with other nations; that to be independent for the comforts of life, we must fabricate them ourselves. We must now place our manufacturers by the side of the agriculturist.”

      But yes, that sense of vastness and not seeing anything but cows and prairie dogs and a sky so big that you feel humble is what makes spending time in the West a very special deal. Unlike Jefferson, however, I enjoy the sense of community and “we are all in this together” that goes with living in a big city. Bumping into each other walking down the street keeps me connected to humanity in a different but equally valid way. What seems neither fish nor fowl, neither here nor there is the Anytown USAs of the Suburbs and Exurbs. Wish we had not let mindless sprawl happen. I’ve found that the most trouble we have from newcomers here in my small town is not from city folk or country folk, but from the gated community escapees whether from the East or California. They just don’t know how to behave.

  3. This is so dumb. You’re obviously not from MT, and possibly never even visited. Don’t be offensive; people from the state don’t appreciate it (including myself)!

    • You are right. As readers of this blog know, I am not from Montana originally. I’m from the Midwest. I married a 5th generation cattle rancher whose family has been on this particular ranch for 3 generations. This was written for friends of mine who were coming to Montana to do a movie, but I orignallly wrote it as a Christmas Letter. It’s meant to be light hearted and my Montana husband gave me some help writing it and provided the “lingo”. He also has a sense of humor.

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