Rout the Kimmie in the Boat


On Language

A glossary of Boontling.


The William Wallach Duff home, whose residents, per local lore, were instrumental in developing Boontling.

Between 1880 and 1920, the residents of a relatively isolated Northern California town called Boonville spoke a secret language. Boontling, as the locals called it, was an elaborate jargon developed either by the men working the hop fields who wished to keep their conversations private, or by women who wanted to gossip unobtrusively about a young lady who had found herself kaishbook (pregnant). Whatever its origins, the language soon spread through the small community, who used it to confuse outsiders. The lexicon included phonologically changed words borrowed from regional Appalachian dialect, Spanish, and the local Pomo Indian language; it later expanded to include invented figures of speech, nouns turned into verbs, onomatopoeia, and other neologisms.

In 1971, Charles C. Adams, who was widely recognized as an authority on the dialect, published Boontling: An American Lingo, a linguistic and historical study on the slang, which came complete with a dictionary. Here are a few of our favorites:

almittey: n. A burp, esp. a loud one; one who burps loudly. {This was the name of a local woman who distinguished herself for her habitual noisy belching.}

apple-head: n. A girl, esp. one’s girl friend. {This is rooted in an incident in which someone used the term derisively to refers to a Boonter’s girl friend who allegedly had a noticeably small head.}

backdated chuck: n. A backward, ill-informed person—naive and stupid {A combination of backdated (outmoded, behind-the-times) and chuck (a dull person).} 

bahl: mod. Good; of excellent quality. One of the most commonly used Boontling words. {An old Boonter of Scotch ancestry is said to have made a judgment of high quality in any product by saying, “That’s bahl.” Some informants say the base is “ball” (though all agree the pronunciation was, and should be the “broad a” {ah}) and that the allusion was to Ball Band shoes originally}

barl: v. To shoot a gun. Also occurs as keebarl. {Informants insist that this is imitative of the sound of a rifle report.}

barney: v. To embrace or hug; to kiss; to “smooch.” {An affectionate Boonter named Barney addressed women he knew with such names as “darling‘” and often kissed them in greeting them and in saying goodbye.}

bat: v. To masturbate. {Possibly back formation from batter (bachelor), based on an assumption about males living in solitude.}

beljeek: n. A rabbit; esp. a black-tailed jack rabbit. {Phonemic reshaping (including coalescence) of a combination of Belgian (Belgian hare) and jack (jack rabbit).}

blooch: v. To chatter aimlessly. {Phonemic reshaping of blue jay, probably through intermediate form blooje.}

boo: n. Potato. {Borrowed from Pomo Indian bu.} Example: The dehigged kimmie gormed boos ’n weel bomtooks: The poor man ate potatoes and wild grapes

breggo: n. A sheep. {Borrowed from Spanish borrego, which specifically refers to a yearling lamb, one not two years old.}

briney: n. The ocean; the coastal area.

briney glimmer: n. A lighthouse on the coast. {Combination of briney (ocean, coast) and glimmer (lantern).}

buckey walter: n. A pay telephone {Combination of buckey (nickel) and “Walter.” A man named Walter Levi owned the first phone in the valley; as a result walter levi is a telephone. Early pay phone required only a nickel.}

burlap: v. To have sexual intercourse; to engage another in intercourse. {Anecdotal. A young Boonter is said to have surprised a store clerk having intercourse with a girl lying on a bale of burlap bags in the storeroom. He emerged exclaiming to his companions, “They’re burlapin’ in there.”}

charl: v. To milk a cow. {Probably imitative of the sound of a jet of milk from a hand-milked cow striking the bottom of an empty or nearly empty bucket. Perhaps related to dialectal char “chore.”}

chimpmunk: v. To hoard; to store up. {Allusion to the habit of the rodent named to store food for winter.}

cock: v.t. To become angry. {Some informants relate this to the cocking of a gun and to the belligerent behavior of male fowl. Probably related to the dialectal verb meaning “to fight, wrangle, quarrel.”}

cock a fister on.: v. To get into a fight; to start a fight. {Unusual combination of merged verb cock on (see cock) and fister (a fist-fight).}

deeblin’-’n-deetlin’: n. A work session in which lambs are castrated and have their tail docked {Combination of sound-alike phonemically reshaped line terms for de-balling and de-tailing.}

deek: v. To look; to examine (esp. with on).

doolsey: n. Candy; sweets; sugar. {Borrowed from Spanish dulce, perhaps indirectly through Pomo Indian.}

doolsey boo: n. Sweet potato {Combination of doolsey (sweet) and boo (potato) See both components.}

ear-settin’: n. A scolding; a reprimand. {An adaption of the expression “to set an ear,” the lingo verb for “scold.” It is an allusion to the method of punishing sheep dogs for misconduct by twisting their ears. The transference to verbal assault on the ears is an interesting figurative shift.}

eeble: v.t. To scrutinize; to look over thoroughly; to look at. {Functional shift of the noun eeble, like the conversion of English eyeball.}

fence-jumpin’: n. Adultery; acts of marital infidelity. {Allusion to one’s leaving his own pasture to graze somewhere else.}

fratty shams: n. Grapevines. {Combination of fratty (wine) and shams (brush).}

ganno: n. An apple of any variety; specially a small red apple of inferior overall quality, but suitable for drying. {Said to be Spanish, but this has not been verified. Professional pomologists say strain names are almost impossible to trace.}

golden eagles: n. Women’s garments, esp. panties {Golden Eagle was a popular brand of flour; the sacks were often used for making clothing, esp. underclothing. Other brand-name sacks were used, too.}

gorm: v. To eat.

hair buryin’: n. A shivaree. {An allusion to the pubic area and the sexual aspects of the wedding night.}

harp: v. To talk; esp. to talk Boontling.

heefus: n. and mod. A person who does not act responsibly; characterized by incompetence. {Phonemically reshaped half-ass, related as a modifier to half-assed.}

kaishbook: mod. Pregnant. {Pomo Indian.}

kilockety: v. To travel by train. {Imitative of the sounds of metal wheels on rails.}

kiloppety: v. To travel by horse-drawn vehicle or on horseback. {Imitative of the sound of shod hooves on a roadway.}

kimmie; kimmey: n. A man; a male visitor. {Combination of the phonemically altered form of come and noun suffix-y. Local informants suggest that the base word was noun come-along—a term for any man passing a home of homestead. The probable base is Scotch kimmer, a form of comer.} This is one of the most common lingo words.

mate gormin’: n. The practice of oral-genital contacts, either cunnilingus or fellatio. {Combination of mate (pudendum) and gormin’ (eating).}

moldunes: n. Female breasts, esp. very large. {One local moldune (large woman) had noteworthy mammary development.}

rookyto: n. A California valley quail. {Imitative of one of the calls made by this bird.}

rout the kimmie in the boat: An expression meaning to get a female pregnant.

squirrel-ribby: mod. Of or pertaining to the erect phallus. {Analogy between veins on referent and rib ridges on a squirrel’s body.}

taigey: mod. Manic; severally emotionally disturbed. {A man nicknamed Taig (short for tiger) had to be committed because he became wildly irrational.}

wess: v. To fib; to exaggerate. {A Boonter named Wes often “stretched” the truth, esp. in telling stories.}

Jeffery Gleaves is digital manager of The Paris Review.