Bodacious, Babylon, and Glottophobia

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February 22, 2019 by libroshombre

Bodacious, the legendary bucking bull in the Professional Bull Riding (PBR) Hall of Fame, brings many associations to mind, including the doomed efforts of politicians like William L. Harding and Jean-Luc Melenchon to control languages. Their feeble lexicographical aspirations are similar to those of 125 of the 135 professional bullriders – don’t call them “cowboys” unless they actually did that sort of work – who tried to ride old Bodacious, who was described as “the fiercest competitor of his generation…lethal, a legend, the Michael Jordan of barnyard brutes… a combination of Babe Ruth, Secretariat, and Sonny Liston,” in GQ Magazine.

PBR competitors, like most professional rodeo competitors, usually go to special schools rather than ranches to acquire their skills, so I reserve my respect for the working cowboys competing in ranch rodeos. These differ from modern, glitzified rodeos on television by having full-time ranch hands compete in teams “for fun and bragging rights” and the chance to showcase their horsemanship. Events include “calf branding” (cut out a calf from a herd and brand it using chalk), “ranch vet” (like calf branding except older animals are involved), and my favorite event, “team penning.”

Team penning requires three horsemen to cut out three specific yearlings out of a herd of thirty, herd them through a 10’ opening into a 16’ x 24’ pen, and keep them there. They compete against the clock, and it’s much harder than it sounds, with cows flying around as those quarter horses prance and jump sharply in almost telepathic cooperation with the riders. It was invented in 1942 during the lunch break of some California cowboys who’d been sorting steers from a herd. They were real cowboys, not lowly “cowpokes” or “cowpunchers” who utilized thick poles to punch cows in and out of railroad boxcars for watering and feeding.

Legendary Texas cowboy Bill Pickett is the sort I venerate. Born to former slave parents in 1870, he began working as a ranch hand after fifth grade. Cowboys actually work with the animals, while ranch hands dig fence posts, build hog pens, etc., but Pickett quickly emerged as something special when he personalized the practice of using trained bulldogs to bring unruly steers to the ground for branding by mounting up and “riding hard, springing from his horse, and wrestling the steer to the ground. Pickett’s method for bulldogging was biting a cow on the lip and then falling backwards,” according to “Notable Black American Men.”

Pickett went on to Wild West Show fame until retiring in 1932 and several months later was killed from a horse kick to the head. Two years later Iowa governor William Harding died after languishing in shame after being censured by the state legislature for accepting a bribe to pardon a rapist. His above-board record is also terrible, for in 1918 Harding issued the “Babel Proclamation,” which banned the use of any language other than English. It was the height of war hysteria and Harding demagogued like a champion, forbidding the use of any non-English language for any purpose, even private prayer. “German intrigue does not confine itself to the German language,” he said. “The fact is they find it more convenient now to use other languages,” except English, of course. As for the non-English prayer ban, he said “I am telling those who insist upon praying in some other language that they are wasting their time, for the good Lord up above is now listening for the voice in English.”

French parliamentarian Melenchon, leader of a far-left political faction, was caught on camera rebuking a reporter in harsh terms for having a southern accent. This led to introduction of a bill to outlaw “glottophobia,” a new term meaning prejudice or discrimination against speakers of regional accents. Other European nations have anti-glottophobia laws, but anytime you try to regulate living languages that are constantly evolving, well, you usually end up like the 125 men who tried to ride Bodacious, or “Dodge Bodacious” as he was professionally known when working as “spokesbull” for that motor car company.

It’s safer to watch John Travolta ride the mechanical bull in the “Urban Cowboy” DVD available at your library, where there’s no discriminating, and that’s no bull.




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