Monday, April 30, 2012

Talking to a mule

Do you ever need to talk to a mule? Neither do I, but once everyone who plowed or pulled a piece of farm equipment had to be able to speak in terms the animals understood. The universal terms for turning left or right were/are "Gee" and "Haw." In the U.S., Gee means "turn right" and Haw is the opposite. I'm told that in Britain the convention is the reverse of the American one.

For most people living today who are at all familiar with the terms the expressions are largely vestigial, used in a manner that may relate to their original meanings but not obviously so. Someone giving a pep talk to a group may say "we're going to have to Gee and Haw," meaning keep on course or keep on task. A farmer plowing with a team of mules or horses might have been heard to call "Gee" or "Haw" repeatedly as the plow moved down the furrow, making small course corrections along the way to keep the furrows straight. Or someone who is confused might be said to "not know whether to Gee or Haw."

Then there's this painted on a water tower in nearby Allardt, Tennessee.

Would you believe there's a crossroad just ahead?

1 comment:

  1. Love it! Always knew those Tennesseans to be pragmatic people! Thanks for a neat post, Jim!