Language tips for the curious or confused. Because we really can fit into either category, depending on the day, the moment, the answer that slipped from your mind.
This is episode 9 of season 1, and I’ll admit it, this podcast started out as an experiment. Who in the world is as fascinated as I am by words and language and fine-tuning our communications, spit-polishing them until them shine? It turns out, I’m not alone. I love it.
But let’s dive in. Or should I say, let’s giddy-up. Today, we’re talking about cowboys.
Episode 9: Cowboy Slang and Ace-High Wild West Typos
We’re getting there through a conversation about how to spell “faze” vs. “phase.” When something fazes/phases you, like a wayward cow who’s left the herd, or like perhaps bad spelling, how do you spell that?
What? Are you doing a double-take? Did you realize there’s this other word “faze” that you should be aware of? Yep, pay attention to your spelling, folks. The “phase” vs. “faze” distinction is one you should definitely know.
A lot of people assume that the “phase” spelling covers everything. It might not have fazed you, but it’s fazed a lot of editors over time.
- “Phase” is either a verb, meaning to carry out systematically (i.e., “phase in” or “phase out”), or a noun, meaning a stage (e.g., the phases of the moon).
- “Faze” is a verb meaning to disturb or embarrass. It commonly appears in its negative form, “unfazed.”
Interestingly, the word “faze” is a 19th-century American invention, stemming from the word “feeze,” which meant to drive away or to frighten. Here we have another tale of a word that has been all but forgotten, but in this case, the slang variant born out of the American Wild West—”faze”—is still going strong. I don’t know the cowboy or cowgirl who started it all, but it’s surely an ace-high grammarian tale.
Cowboy slang. Howdy, language innovation.
As a bonus here, do you know how to spell “y’all”?
When people misspell the contraction “y’all,” I can’t help but cringe. Sure, it may be the same way others cringe upon hearing the southern colloquialism, but I can’t help it. It’s not a creation of an invented dialect. It’s a contraction, people. A contraction. As in one word that combines two others.
- Is not –> Isn’t
- They will –> They’ll
- I have–> I’ve
- It is –> ‘tis (Yes, I’m a Shakespeare fan too)
- You all –> Y’all
What is with this “ya’ll” form I keep seeing? Is this some form of Yankee trickery, trying to transfigure a celebrated Southern idiom into a nonsensical, Red Neck Comedy Tour inspired tomfoolery? I protest, y’all. I utterly and whole-heartedly protest.
And since we’re on a roll, I’ll give you one more.
If you want to go dive in a corral reef, I wonder if you’ve drank a bit too much tarantula juice after a long day lassoing cows and singing cowboy songs. Don’t dive in the corral. It’ll probably hurt, and there might just be a bull in there that will add to the misadventure.
“Corrals” go with cowboys. Cowboys are often in groups (plural), so the “R”s are too.
- A “corral” is a gathering pen for horses, cows, or similar animals. It can also be a verb meaning to gather or to seize.
- “Coral,” on the other hand, is that lovely reef you’re looking for. They’re pretty rare, so maybe that’s why there’s only one “R” in there. “Coral” is also maybe the shade your face turns when you mix up these two words—a redish, pinkish, yellowish hue.
I caught this “coral” vs. “corral” typo the other day, and it made me smile. You know what else makes me smile? Tarantula juice. No, not the drinking of it—though that would surely also make me smile—but the fact that this cowboy slang for whiskey exists.
Who knew talking about cowboys could cover so much about the proper use of the English language?
Join 750+ subscribers and sign-up for my writing and editing email newsletter for more tips like this.
And don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast (via Apple Podcasts, Android, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, or RSS) so you’ll never miss out on another word you should know. Like what you heard? Rate my show on iTunes or wherever you listen.
Contact me today if you have any language questions for a future episode. I’d love to hear from you!