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A dialect of English spoken in the Anderson Valley in Northern California. Originally devised by female hop pickers to pass the time, it comprises about 1000 words and expressions, such as "bucky walter" (pay phone), "horn of Zeece" (cup of coffee), "hob" (dance), and numerous words of a less savory nature.

Constructed languages often seem to be an impractical fancy of (pseudo)intellectuals and/or nerds. After all, Esperanto, perhaps the most famous planned language, 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 immersed in his Elvish tongues, seemingly detached from reality. However, Boontling represents a constructed dialect 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, California, and flourished for about 40 years. Some residents of the area used Boontling as their primary language, and had difficulty with standard English when required to speak it. Boontling consists of about 1300 unique words and phrases. The "lingo" draws on numerous sources and linguistic principles for its broad lexicon, including...
  • 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" them.
  • 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 topics, left over from the language's original use. For fun, here's a short list:

bulrusher: illegitimate child
burlap: sexual intercourse
frattey: wine
hornin': drinking
madge: prostitute
ose: rear end
steinber: beer
string: 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 the traditional language by passing it on to children and grandchildren.

If you'd like to harp the ling, some resources are listed below:


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