Sunday, June 25, 2017

Mnemonic, in Ballad Form

Yesterday I had the treat of a customer who preferred to speak Spanish. This only happens just often enough so that my own small share of Spanish is thoroughly rusted over again since its last use--but oh! it makes my day every time I'm allowed to try it! In this case, I was trying to explain how to put a string on a guitar which, fortunately for the customer, was a mostly visual explanation. But there were bits where I needed to scrape up a word, as, I thought, when explaining the necessity of leaving some slack in the string to be wound up around the capstan. I was lost entirely trying to come up with a Spanish equivalent of "slack," but at the notion of winding round, something began to crawl up from the depths of my memory.

And there it was--a mental picture of a steer fleeing into the distance. Around its horns was a rope, and from the rope, tied fast, a saddle was dragging across the teeth of the rocky ground. And as if captioning the picture the timeless advice: "Always take dally weltas, boys, that's California law. . ."

"Vuelta," came with great confidence.

Yes, if my conversation was any clearer, it was thanks to a snippet of a song I first read when I was probably about 12. I don't know that I ever thought it a particularly notable song but for the detail that Texas cowboys tended to tie their ropes fast to the saddle horn when roping, whereas the vaquero-influenced Californians would dar la vuelta, wind the loose end around the horn only after having settled the working end on a steer. In English, the phrase eventually wore down into dally welta, or more simply, dally. At least that is what I recall from whichever book printed this cautionary tale in verse. Younger me was, I am sure, much more interested in the pros and cons of whether one is wise to tie fast to a saddle or not.

I don't think I ever heard the song sung until the Internet Radio age. Looking for an example to show here, I found a lot of singers just gave the moral: "Always take your dallies." Excellent advice, of course, but it adds an extra step in the standing-staring-off-into-space-stage if you insist on using a song to remember the word vuelta. So here, for the sake of linguistic integrity, (and because he is Don Edwards) is Don Edwards:

But I can't help including this one. It's spiked with steel guitar.

No comments: