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Hirsute cows and other words

James Beckham for Progressive Cattle Published on 12 February 2020

I love words. I try to use some every day so I don’t get out of practice.

What if I were in a wreck on my horse and couldn’t remember how to say, “Whoa!”? If I mistakenly yelled, “Wo!” instead, would my horse know what to do?

I want to know which book editor decided a perfectly good word like “wo” needed two more letters? Based on my experience with the English language, “whoa” could also be pronounced “whu-oh-ah” instead of “wo.” But, there’s a lot I don’t understand about the English language. In my case, the same thing is true of French, Swedish and Polish.

There are many English words and phrases that originated in some other language, like “helicopter,” which comes from the French “helicoptere.” Then there’s “doobie, doobie, doobie, wo, wo wo,” which comes from many 1960’s rock songs sung in a language no one could understand. My friends and I used to wear out the grooves on certain 45s trying to understand what the lead singer was saying. We figured they were saying something really dirty, and we wanted to be the ones who deciphered the lyrics. That way, we could tell all our friends dirty words with a clear conscience. Sadly, we had to give up because of the unknown language spoken by the singers. It may have been Polish.

Some English words are really superfluous, including perhaps, "superfluous." And, I want to meet the person who came up with the word “hirsute.” Not being a particularly hairy guy, I once looked up the meaning of "hirsute," but I’ve forgotten what it means. I keep wondering if it has anything to do with the crop of hair growing out of my ears these days. Where did that come from? There didn’t used to be hair in my ears. Now I have to use a weed eater to clean ‘em out periodically.

When was the last time you heard your state brand inspector, who was trying to read a haired-over brand on some old cow, remark, “Boy, this Hereford sure is hirsute”? Or, how often does the auctioneer at your local sale barn interject “hirsute” into his auction spiel? Probably never, because he forgot to look up “hirsute” in the Dictionary of Sorta-Acceptable Auction Words.

"Perfunctory" and "glossolalia" are fun words, but do we really need them? Have you ever heard your cattle broker use “perfunctory”? Would the technician checking your livestock scales yell, “Oh glossolalia!” after hitting his thumb with his calibration hammer? Somehow, I don’t think so.

Phrases used in the ag business tend to be more understandable, even if regional. Like on those freezing cold mornings when everyone has escaped to drink coffee after breaking ice. Driving past the fogged-up windows of the coffee shop on the way to get a flat fixed, the guy in the pickup with me may opine, “I see everybody else is shedded up,” thereby suggesting we should stop for coffee instead of dropping off that flat tire first. I offered to let him stick his fingers in the pickup radiator to thaw them out and wash off most of the mud from changing the flat, but he declined. And now he wants to stop for coffee? There’s just no pleasing some folks. But, we both knew what he meant by “shedded up.”

Ask your horse this week how he or she feels about those two extra letters in “whoa.” I’m looking for ratification that we don’t need those additional letters. Poll your experts and tell me what they say.  end mark

James Beckham
  • James Beckham

  • Writer
  • Commercial Angus Producer
  • Amarillo, Texas
  • Email James Beckham

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