Different folks choose different names

Grant McGee

If those are green chiles roasting and that’s the fragrance of piñon from someone’s fireplace, it’s fall in New Mexico.

At the Clovis Farmers’ Market the other day, I saw another sign of fall in the Land of Enchantment: Chili ristras. You know them — bunches of dried red chilis people hang, usually outside by the front door.

Chili ristras got me to thinking about how we all live in one country but have different names for things. Shoot, we can’t even agree on what something’s called in the same state.

For instance, we have our chili ristras here in New Mexico. In Arizona, they call them “chili strings.” Well, OK, that’s what they are, chilis on strings. I think it’s another brick in the wall of Arizonan denial: Arizonans tend to deny, forget or not even know they were once part of the New Mexico territory. Our state was once a really big chunk of real estate.

Even within our own borders, there are differences over what to call something.

Don’t get someone from Santa Fe talking about those Christmas decorations most of us call “luminarias,” the brown paper bags with the candle inside. Apparently many Santa Fe residents call them “farolitos,” literally “little fire.” Who’s to say who’s right? Arizonans call them “Mexican bag lights.”

Maybe it is a good thing those Arizonans have their own state.

Then there are chimineas. You know these things, pottery hearths shaped like a light bulb. We call them chimineas, most folks in the American Southwest call them chimineas, even folks in Minnesota call them chimineas. Not so in the American South.

Passing through Alabama and Florida this past summer the tourist traps advertised they were selling “Mexican fireplaces.” Sure enough, they were chimineas. One thing about chimineas that’s the same in the South as it is in the Southwest: The price.

I’ve always had kind of an interest in how people say things and name things in different parts of the country, even the world.

I remember a disagreement between my mother and grandmother on my father’s side. My mom came from Ohio, my grandmother from Virginia. There was that daughter-in-law/mother-in-law, Yankee/Southerner “thing” going on. Their disagreement was over the word “commode.”

Now when you hear the word “commode,” what do you think of? To my mother it meant a chest of drawers. To my grandmother it meant a toilet.

I remember looking it up to see who was right. It was a draw. My mother had come from German ancestry. In her family a commode was a chest of drawers. Commode in the South had come to mean a toilet. In the old days it was a nice chair fitted with a chamber pot.

If you don’t know what a chamber pot is, do what my mother always told me: Look it up.

Those are just a few examples of how things, names and phrases can be different from place to place. There are people who actually have college degrees in this stuff. I thought linguistics would be a cool thing to study.

I don’t know what I’d do with a linguistics degree though. There’s a guy who does that on the new TV show “Threshold.” He’s part of a team trying to stop extraterrestrials from colonizing Earth.

In real life, the last person I met who had a linguistics degree sold advertising.

Grant McGee hosts the weekday morning show on KTQM-FM in Clovis. Contact him at: blisscreeksw@yahoo.com