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Vocabulario Vaquero / Cowboy Talk

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Vocabulario Vaquero / Cowboy Talk
A Dictionary of Spanish Terms from the American West. By Robert N. Smead. Foreword by Richard W. Slatta. Illustrations by Ronald Kil. (Norman, University of Oklahoma Press: 2005. Pg. xxxii, 197. 16 Line Drawings.) ISBN: 0-8061-3631-6.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - March 2, 2005

The lingua franca of the American cowboy was primarily a mix of English and Spanish. In Vocabulario Vaquero / Cowboy Talk, Robert N. Smead has compiled a dictionary of Spanish terms that were commonly used throughout the American West. As mentioned in the book's introduction: " This dictionary is unique... because it focuses solely on the words and expressions used in ranching and cowboying that trace back to Spanish" (Pg. xxi.). This text helps to illustrate the cultural synthesis that occurred in the American West, and shows, in part, how Hispanic ranchers and cowboys influenced their Anglo counterparts.

A scholarly text, Cowboy Talk contains more than 750 entries. Each entry provides a wealth of information on a range of topics including a lexical entry, the etymology of the word under study, a list of English and Spanish sources for the word, date of first attestation, and other explanatory information. English pronunciations are not given. Special attention is given to Native American words that entered the cowboys' vocabulary via Spanish.

The text also includes an illuminating foreword by Richard W. Slatta that provides an historical overview of how Spanish terms came to be absorbed into the lexicon of American cowboys. Several explanatory illustrations, by Ronald Kil are scattered throughout the text. The following is a sample entry from the dictionary:
(Sp. model spelled same [púlke], apocopated form of Nahuatl poliuhqui-otli 'putrefied wine,' so named because of the strong smell of the drink and because of the process of allowing it to 'putrefy' or ferment in leather containers). Clark: 1830's. An intoxicating drink made from fermented agave sap. The DRAE describes it as a thick white drink from the Mexican highlands obtained by fermenting the juice extracted from the maguey plat with an acocote (a long calabash with perforations at both ends). Santamaría references it as a thick white, spiritous, and intoxicating drink with an unpleasant taste and nauseating properties. The drink is popular among the poorer classes on the Central Plateau and, along with chiles and tortillas, forms a principal source of nutrition." (Pg. 156.)
This peerless dictionary is a must have for anyone interested in Western studies, Cowboy lore, material culture, as well as anyone who simply enjoys the study of words. This text is a detailed, authoritative study of 'Cowboy' linguistics, yet it is also an accessible guide for the layman interested in the history and language of the American West. This book is packed with useful information about cowboy and ranch life, and you may be surprised to discover just how many 'English' words owe their origin to Spanish - such as doughboy, tank, and jerky.

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