A tribute to Alan Dundes

On Wednesday, March 30, 2005, one of my favorite teachers of all time passed away. Alan Dundes was a great scholar, teacher and man. But the most tragic of all is the loss of a great story teller. Each year he taught students of the difference between an "active bearer" and "passive bearer" of folklore. Both possess the ability to transmit folklore, but the former does it with a skill and zeal that transmits not only the content of the lore itself, but also the essence of it as well. Without a doubt, Dundes was one of the most important active folklore bearers of our time. It was nothing short of a privilege and an honor to have taken several of his classes.

In fact, I remember with great pride writing an essay in his class that he felt I should submit for publication. But of course he felt that way, the paper was not only freudian, it was also about one of his favorite topics: scat.

Of course, I never published the paper. Which is why it seems fitting to publish it now, as a tribute to him.

But I also publish it because the more I thought about it, the more tragic I began to think it was that so much research and analysis is lost because students don't care to publish their work, they simply want to finish the essay, get their grade and move on.

I do not profess for a moment that my writing is any good, or that my analysis contributes something truly revolutionary to the field of folklore. But perhaps that is not entirely for me to decide. So in the heart of open and free distribution of content, I now publish one of college essays for the first time. And if someone out there finds some value in the availability of this information, analysis and content, then I feel it has served some greater purpose.

How Do You Fit a Texan in a Match Box?
An essay exploring the stereotype of Texans being full of shit

Of all the people from all the states in the United States, the people from Texas have the most pronounced and well known stereotype. People from all over the world might not have any idea what or where Ohio, Idaho, Wyoming, Georgia, Arizona, and all the others states (save a few) are, but they will most likely know what a Texan is. If you asked, they might even be able to tell you what a Texan looks like *Leach, Joseph, The Typical Texan: Biography of an American Myth. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX, ©1952. p4]: “a tall, lanky, tanned cowboy, booted and spurred, a ten gallon hat on his head, and a six-shooter at his hip.” *Leach, Joseph, The Typical Texan: Biography of an American Myth. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX, ©1952. jacket cover. No doubt there is a distinctive look to a Texan, which is probably a remnant of the “cowboy” image exploited by Hollywood, and the media for ads like Marlboro cigarettes. However, the Texan image tells us nothing of their character. Odd since if Texans are known for one thing, it is their ego.

Everything is bigger in Texas. It is hard to determine the source of this egotism, or as a native might call it: pride, but it exists nonetheless. Just ask a Texan to start telling you of all the things larger in Texas. I am sure they will tell you how Texas is the largest state in the country, considering from their point of view Alaska never counts anyway1While growing up in Austin, Texas, I would often hear my friends joke about Alaska not really being a state since it was not part of the continental United States.. How the state capitol building is three feet taller than the United States’ capitol. How the Bass Concert Hall in Austin is the largest concert hall in the country by three seats2The legend goes that when they were building the concert hall, they just missed being the largest concert hall in the country by one seat. So some zealous Texan, found four seats and nailed them in the only place that still had room for the seats: on the wall. I heard this legend from a friend of mine in high school theater. Not to mention of course the use of the “magic number” three in western society which is a number that pops up frequently in western folklore, which might tip someone off to the origin of these “facts.”. Without a doubt a Texan could rattle off the names of every celebrity or famous person who has ever even visited Texas, much less lived there. A Texan could undoubtedly add a million things to this brag list, and happily so; after all, an integral part of the Texan stereotype is their incessant bragging*Leach, Joseph, The Typical Texan: Biography of an American Myth. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX, ©1952. p4.

A Texan was visiting Niagara Falls, when he said, “My plumber back home could fix that leak.”*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

This bragging is often perceived by an outsider as being nothing but lies, or at best half-truths. Those who tell these “tall tales” or stories are often referred to as “tall talkers,” or as “bull shitters” *Berrey, Lester and van den Bark, Melvin, American Thesaurus of Slang, 2nd Edition. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, NY, ©1952. p1633I looked also in a number of slang dictionaries trying to connect full of shit with lying and found nothing. Including: Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, 2nd Edition. William and Mary Morris, Harper and Row Publisher, New York, NY, ©1967..

A guy from Texas walks into a bar and says, “give me a Texas size beer.” The waiter gave him a gigantic beer. Then he says, “give me a Texas size cigar,” and the waiter gave him a gigantic cigar. Then the man said, “where’s the bathroom?” and the waiter said go down the hall and turn right. He went down the hall and turned left, and as he fell in the swimming pool a yell was heard, “please don’t flush it.”4See Appendix I for more versions of this joke. There is also much more going on here than a simple commentary on the size of things in Texas. This will elaborated on in more detail later, but it is interesting that the pool was mistaken for a toilet, not simply because it is huge, but because it is probably the only thing large enough to hold all the shit that comes out of Texan when they go to the bathroom.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

This connection to stretching the truth or telling lies to excrement is not uncommon at all. The phrase “that person is full of shit,” or “that person is full of crap” is often used to refer to a liar *Sagarin, Edward, The Anatomy of Dirty Words. Lyle Stuart Publisher ©1962. p54,58,76. So it is only natural that blason populaire about Texans develops dealing with exactly this concept.

Question: Why do Texans have brown eyes?
Answer: Because of the shit up to their eyebrows.
To be said after the proceeding answer is given:
Question: Why do some Texans have blue eyes?
Answer: Half a quart low.2Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans
How do you fit a Texan in a shoe box? Give him an enema.5See Appendix I for more versions of this joke.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

Regardless of the association of Texans to shit, why Texans?

Among folklorists, it is well known that among the genre of blason populaire, or ethic slurs, the ethnicity made fun of in the joke is virtually interchangeable with any other ethnicity *Legman, Rational of the Dirty Joke. Volume 2. © p264. This indicates that with folklore, it is not always the content of the lore which is critical as much as it is the process of sharing the lore which is critical, not to mention the emotional and psychological release achieved by telling the lore. So during a time, similar to today’s political correctness movement, when it went out of style to make fun of certain ethnic groups in our country (mainly the Polish and the Irish) it was only natural to fill the void left by them in American folklore, with a new target: The Texan *Legman, Rational of the Dirty Joke. Volume 2. ©. p263. It was a more than reasonable substitute considering the Texan’s reputation already in place as being a braggart and consequently as being full of shit. At the same time, however, it is hard to believe that the blason populaire told today about Texan’s surfaced due to some minor historical movement - there must be something more at work here.

One must remember that Texans aren’t the only ones with pride. It seems to be a very natural progression that when someone brags, or places themselves in a superior position to someone else, that the other person become reactionary. Blason populaire then becomes a defense mechanism not necessarily against the Texan bragging, but against the subtle fear that the Texan may be right - that there may be some kernel of truth to what they are saying. People will go to great lengths to continually assert their dominance, and “put downs” and insults are one of the quickest ways to test, to establish and to assess social dominance hierarchies. However, in the end bruised pride is inadequate to explain the obsession with scatology in association with Texans.

There is probably a much deeper mechanism of resentment that would cause the hostility towards Texans; and in a capitalist society such as ours, where greed and power are so highly prized and rewarded, it is not surprising why shit is such a prominent motif. Throughout folklore shit has been connected with feces. It seems an unlikely coupling initially, and for those who realize the Freudian connection, it becomes much more difficult to accept. But upon examining the obvious parallel in several genres, it is undeniable. American folkspeech is full of parallels: “filthy rich,” “to be rolling in it,” “to make a pile,” “to have money up the wazoo,” or even “to have money up the ass.” *Dundes, Lecture: Feb. 18, 1997 When you take into consideration yet one more stereotype of a Texan, a connection is easily made between scatology and Texan blason populaire. The Texas oil man is a well known stereotype, and in many ways a resented figure.

In order to understand this resentment, we must first know more about this stereotype, and its contrast to other stereotypes. The image of the wealthy Texas oil tycoon, differs greatly from the typical image of the American upper class. Texas oil tycoons are often depicted as wearing the famous “Texas Tuxedo:” blue jeans, boots, white shirt, a large belt buckle, a blazer or other fine jacket, a bolo tie, and a ten gallon hat6This is the term I learned when I was growing up in Austin, Texas. The outfit does indeed exist and is often worn to any number of formal social events, and in my experience, very acceptable in lieu of a real tuxedo.. This contrasts greatly against the more refined image of the typical American aristocrat who is often depicted as wearing an all black tuxedo, a nice vest, a bow tie, and shiny dress shoes. The resentment spoken of earlier makes sense in a society which places the “American Dream,” the idea that if you simply work hard enough you can achieve anything, on a pedestal especially considering that the Texas oil man has managed to cheat this ideal by becoming wealthy by little or no work at all - just by simply being at the right place at the right time and discovering oil. What is interesting is how this Texas oil man stereotype has transcended all other stereotypes so that every Texan is assumed to have oil money.

Oil money, can you imagine anything dirtier? Money has already been linguistically linked to feces, and feces is the pinnacle of filth *Dundes, Alan, Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder: A Study of German National Character Through Folklore. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI, ©1984. p82. Now imagine that money already black, slick, and impossible to get off. Oil is the filthiest of all money, and therefore must be equated with the filthiest of all shit. Status, which is highly correlated to money in American society, is clearly seen in the following joke involving Texas business men.

A group of Texas businessmen were on a plane bound for a business convention in San Francisco. The flight was an especially frightful one; no sooner had the plane taken off when a storm struck, causing terrible turbulence. All the passengers were immediately instructed to put on their safety belt for the remainder of the flight. Then midway through the journey, the pilot discovered a defect in the landing gear and was forced to alert the passengers that an emergency landing might be necessary when they arrived at San Francisco. Between the violent rocking motion of the plane caused by the storm and now the possibility of having to make a landing with defective landing gear, the Texans on the plane were panic-stricken; even the flight attendants were visibly shaken. Then on arrival at San Francisco, the plane had to circle the airport for an hour until the fog lifted so that the emergency landing could be made more safely. This of course unnerved the passengers aboard even more! Finally, the okay was given for the plane to land, and, fortunately, the landing went smoothly! An emergency landing crew was dispatched to the runway to help the Texans disembark. Upon doing so, however, one of the crew members was shocked to see that all the Texans getting off the plane stood about two feet tall! He turned to a fellow crew member and said incredulously, “Look! They’re all so small!” whereupon the latter turned to him and said wryly, “Sure they are; you’re looking at a bunch of Texans who have just had the shit scared out of them.”*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

The detail which is most intriguing is how the metaphorical term “full of shit” seems to take on a more literal meaning in this and other genres of Texan blason populaire.

Do you know why a Texan always weighs himself on the bathroom scales before he takes a dump? So in case he falls in, he’ll know how much to take out.*Legman, Rational of the Dirty Joke. Volume 2. ©. p963

One day, the Arkansas mountain lion and the Texas mountain lion meet at the border. The Arkansas mountain lion is sleek, muscular, and has a glint in his eye, but the Texas mountain lion is skinny, mangy, and slope-backed. The Arkansas mountain lion looks his friend over, and says, “Hey, you look pretty awful, you look like you haven’t eaten in about six months.” So the Texas mountain lion wheezes a little, then he says, “No, I been eating all right. I been eating six square meals a day.” Well, you sure don’t look it.” “No, I don’t feel it neither. Seems like the more I eat, the hungrier I get. Nothing satisfies me any more. And I’m getting weaker every day. You’ve gotta help me out.”

So the Arkansas mountain lion thinks a bit , then he says, “Tell you what. See that Texas cowboy coming over the ridge? You hide behind that boulder here, and when he comes by, you jump him. I’ll watch you and see how you do.”

So the Texas mountain lion hides behind the boulder, and when the cowboy comes by, he jumps out in front of him with a horrible roar. The cowboy falls off his horse in terror, picks himself up and starts to run away. The Texas mountain lion takes a huge leap and lands square on the cowboy and him flat into the dust. Then swallows him in two gulps.

The Arkansas mountain lion strolls over to the Texas mountain lion. “Well, how do you feel?” You know, I’m still hungry. I just don’t feel like I ate anything, and I’m weaker than ever.” So the Arkansas mountain lion says to him, “I’ll tell you something. You made two mistakes when you went after that cowboy. First, when you jumped out and roared, you scared him shitless. Then when you knocked him down, you knocked the wind out of him. And everyone knows, there ain’t nothing to a Texan but the shit and the wind.7Another version of this can be found in Legman, p263-264. A cognate can be found in Appendix I.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

A six-foot-eight Texan died and they didn’t have a casket big enough to bury him in. So they gave him an enema and buried him in a shoe box.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

What is even more interesting is how this is expanded upon by making Texans so full of shit that they actually become shit.

What’s the difference between a Texan and a bucket of shit?
The handle.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

Not only that but even the state, the very land of Texas becomes polluted.

How do you find Texas?
You walk east till you smell shit, and you walk south till you step in it.8More versions of this can be found in Appendix I.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans
If God had intended Texans to ski, he would have made bullshit white.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

This association of land with feces is really not surprising when one considers that is the very land which holds the source of the outsider’s resentment: oil. Folklore has been stated to be the manifestation in some way of what people are really feeling *Dundes, Lecture: Jan 21, 1997. These jokes become an important mechanism for voicing the frustration that Americans must have with people who are more wealthy, and especially the frustration with those people who attained that wealth through very little work. The Texan stereotype just happens to be very conducive to scatological folklore.

What is interesting in not only the association of Texans with fecal matter, but also how Texans have dealt with this folklore told about them by others. This same motif, along with many of the same jokes using this motif are common within Texas, yet Texans have deflected these jokes and slurs towards another subgroup or Texans: The Aggies. The name “aggie” is of direct derivation of the term “agriculture” and the name “aggie” is used to describe a student attending Texas A&M (Agricultural and Mining) University in College Station. The association is clear between feces and aggies considering the association with aggies and agriculture, agriculture and cattle, and finally cattle and bull shit. But not only have Texans managed to deflect the ethnic slurs, but they have also managed to empower themselves by diffusing the powerful negative connotation of shit. Shit in many contexts becomes positive. People are often described as having a “shit eating grin” to describe someone very happy, or someone could be described as being “sure as shit” to indicate that they are 100% positive in a dispute. Boots become “shit kickers,” and children (as well as adults for that matter) often indulge themselves in “cow chip tossing contest,” in which prizes are awarded to people who can throw hardened cow feces (found in the shape of disc) the farthest9“Sure as shit,” “Shit eat’n grin,” and “Shit kickers” are all phrases I have learned growing up in Texas, they are terms I use, and have heard used. I believe I learned them in elementary school by over hearing adults use the terms, or through my friends at the time.
“Cow chip tossing contest” is a folk game I have seen, participated in and even won on an occasion when I was a kid. We were told that the game was played by “country folk” and we played it when we went camping or on a retreat out to the country.
. This is not an uncommon phenomenon by any account. Ethnic groups all over the world incorporate slurs into their day-to-day folklore in order to disarm the offensiveness of the slur and to empower themselves*Dundes, Alan, Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder: A Study of German National Character Through Folklore. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI, ©1984..

As it was pointed out earlier, any ethic group can be readily substituted for another in almost any ethic slur. This could easily be used to argue a weakness of this analysis, considering that it is likely that many of these jokes have at some point been used in context with another ethnicity or nationality. Yet it does not account for the fact that some of the literature and scholarly work on blason populaire seem to distinguish this folklore from the rest by placing it in its own sub-category especially designed for Texans and scatology8Legman, Rational of the Dirty Joke. Volume 2. ©. p961. There is a clear and undeniable association between Texans and scatological folklore, and the connection is well rooted in association, history, and psychology. Then again, I am a Texan, and this whole paper could be a bunch of shit.

Whatever.


APPENDIX I: Texan Blason Populaire

“How do you fit a Texan in a match box” versions and cognates

Some man was getting tired of hearing the bragging stories of a Texan. He finally jumped up and said, “Yea, those Texans are big people. I knew one who was so big that when he died they couldn’t find a coffin to fit him. So they gave him an enema and buried him in a shoe box.”*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

First mortician - Do you know why morticians in Texas are so poor?
Second mortician - I hadn’t really thought about it - tell me why?
First mortician - Because when you kick the shit out of all those Texans, you can bury them in a matchbox.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

Do you know how to bury a Texan?
Give him an enema and bury him in a matchbox.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

“Bucket” versions

What’s the difference between a Texan and a bucket of shit?
The bucket.*Legman, Rational of the Dirty Joke. Volume 2. ©. p963

“How do you find Texas?” versions

How do you find Texas?
Go east till you smell it, and south till you step on it.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

How do you get from California to Texas?
Go east till you smell shit, that’s Oklahoma. Then turn south until you step in it, that’s Texas.*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

“Don’t Flush!” versions and cognates

A guy walks into a bar in Texas and asks for a short beer. The bartender brings him a gigantic beer. The guy says, “I asked for a short beer.” “That is,” says the bartender, “everything’s big in Texas.” So the guy asks for a bowl of potato chips, and the bartender brings him an enormous bowl of potato chips. The guy exclaims, “This bowl is gigantic!” “I told you,” says the bartender, “everything’s big in Texas.” So the guy has to take a leak and asks the bartender where the bathroom is. The bartender says, “You go down the hall and turn to the right.” The guy, really drunk, goes down the hall and turns to the left and falls in a swimming pool. Since he a while coming back, the bartender goes to check on him, and finding him in the bathroom, he looks out at the pool. The guy floundering in the swimming pool, yelling, “Don’t flush it! Don’t flush it!”*Berkeley Folklore Archives: Blason Populaire: Texans

Lion versions and cognates

One lion walking behind another lion begins to lick his ass. “Have you turned into a fairy?” The lion in front asks. Leo answered, “no I just ate a Texan and I’m trying to get the bad taste out of my mouth.*Legman, Rational of the Dirty Joke. Volume 2. ©. p961


ENDNOTES

Berrey, Lester and van den Bark, Melvin, American Thesaurus of Slang, 2nd Edition. Thomas Y. Crowell Company, New York, NY, ©1952.

Dundes, Alan, “Lecture on the explanations of the Kwakiutl Potlach.” February, 18, 1997, © 1997.

Dundes, Alan, “Opening lecture and a brief introduction to folklore.” January, 21, 1997, © 1997.

Dundes, Alan, Life is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder: A Study of German National Character Through Folklore. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, MI, ©1984.

Leach, Joseph, The Typical Texan: Biography of an American Myth. Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX, ©1952.

Legman, Rational of the Dirty Joke. Volume 2. ©.

Sagarin, Edward, The Anatomy of Dirty Words. Lyle Stuart Publisher ©1962.

4 Comments

I was lucky enough to sit in on a few of Professor Dundes' classes while I was at Cal in the late 80's. One of the more popular hobbies around campus (besides lounging on the steps of Sproul) was to attend his famous Football Lecture. This, I'm sure you recall, was dedicated to describing the closeted homo-erotic influences and tendencies of our popular pastime.

Never again will I be able to watch a quarterback stick his hands under center, hand off an oddly-shaped skin-covered ball to a fullback, who penetrates the line, forces his way into the end zone and spikes it, without thinking of Alan Dundes.

I hadn't realized that Alan had passed, and I'm saddened by the loss. Thanks for posting this.

I cannot tell you how true and on target this is. I moved to Kansas City from Dallas about nine years ago, and discovered too late, the strong anti-Texan sentiment, indeed, hatred, that is alive and well, here. Especially if you work in a strong union environment where you will be suspected of anti-union sentiments. I have been punished and punished for being a Texan, and none of it based on reality - but stereotyping. As one fella told me, "The only good Texan is a dead one". And you are right - Texans are the new scapegoat. I work for a high profile company that prides itself on it's diversity and political correctness - but nevertheless has allowed me to fill the void and vacancy left open by the untouchable and protected groups. I guess the strategy and sentiment is, if someone has to be a whipping post, the most suitable and logical choice is the Texan - a person everyone hates and resents.

My partner and i are planning our new onsuite and came across your site researching, i've just spent the last 20 mins parusing your blog, don't think my boss will be to happy if he finds out :) nice blog, i'll check back often.

Usually it's going to take somebody to put the words before you before you be aware that every person have to take alot more attention.

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  • Usually it's going to take somebody to put the words before you before you be aware that every person have to take alot more attention. ...

  • My partner and i are planning our new onsuite and came across your site researching, i've just spent the last 20 mins parusing your blog, don't think my boss will be to happy if he finds out :) nice blog, i'll check back...

    Leatrice Eisenhower
    A tribute to Alan Dundes
  • I cannot tell you how true and on target this is. I moved to Kansas City from Dallas about nine years ago, and discovered too late, the strong anti-Texan sentiment, indeed, hatred, that is alive and well, here. Especia...

  • I was lucky enough to sit in on a few of Professor Dundes' classes while I was at Cal in the late 80's. One of the more popular hobbies around campus (besides lounging on the steps of Sproul) was to attend his famous Fo...

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