Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Words from the West

Grand Canyon
I returned yesterday afternoon from a week-and-a-half bus tour of the American Rockies, from Sante Fe to Yellowstone. Along with hundreds of photographs, most of which are just like the photographs everyone else takes who visits these places, and countless memories, I brought back a few tidbits, mostly language-related, to share in this blog.

On our first day, Phil, our tour guide, explained that the lavatory on the bus was a "Las Vegas restroom -- what happens there, stays there." In other words, don't use it anymore than necessary because it won't be emptied or cleaned for
the duration of the trip.

An Ohio farmer on our tour objected when Phil used the word mud. "Mud," she said, "is disrespectful to soil." She also objected to the word dirt.

Less sensitive were the people of the Navajo Nation, whom Phil said preferred to be called Indians, not Native Americans. On a board outside a Navajo high school were the words, "Home of the Redskins."

The so-called Navajo code talkers helped win World War II simply by communicating messages in their own language, which the Japanese could not understand. An excellent museum dedicated to the code talkers can be found, of all places, in a Burger King in Kayenta, Ariz. We got the chance to visit it only because our bus broke down in Kayenta. The Navajo language didn't have words for certain things, so here are some examples of what the code talkers used instead: battleship - whale; submarine - iron fish; destroyer - shark; America - our mother; Australia - rolled hat; January - crusted snow; October - small wind.
Bryce Canyon

Also in Kayenta, there stands an example of a Navajo sweat lodge. The sign outside the sweat lodge begins, "The scares' resource in the desert is waster."

Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon. Monument Valley, where John Ford made so many westerns with John Wayne, isn't really a valley.

Garfield County in Utah is among the largest counties in the United States, yet it has but one traffic light and one lawyer.

Western towns often place a large letter on a nearby mountain to guide travelers toward their town. A big B on a mountainside, for example, promotes Beaver, Utah.

Antler arch in Jackson, Wyo.
A local guide for a tour of Salt Lake City told us that when she was a volunteer at the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, she confiscated a handgun from Mitt Romney, president of the organizing committee. Romney congratulated her, explaining that he was carrying the gun to test whether security personnel were strictly following the rules. When he asked for the gun back, she refused. Still following the rules, she turned the gun over to the FBI.

Is it Jackson, Wyo., or Jackson Hole, Wyo.? You see it both ways on signs, advertising, newspapers, etc. Phil explained that the city itself is Jackon. Jackson Hole refers to the area, or the valley around Jackson. Early trappers referred to valleys as holes because they had to go down into them to do their trapping.

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