Monday, July 27, 2015

Are You A Ring-Tailed Tooter?

When someone was especially rambunctious or trouble-making or outlandish in any way, my Texas-raised mother would call that person a “ring-tailed tooter.” I don’t encounter that phrase much any more, but it certainly serves a purpose when needed. It can be used to describe mischievous children, especially the kind who leave a trail of wreckage behind them. But there’s also a hint of admiration (and maybe envy) in the epithet, giving credit to someone with a zesty approach to life. Perhaps the quintessential ring-tailed tooter would have been Huckleberry Finn, although I don’t believe Mark Twain ever referred to him as such.

The etymology is uncertain, the “ring-tailed” part seemingly referring to the pattern on the tail a raccoon, an animal noted for mischief, and the “tooter” perhaps alluding to someone blowing a horn, or maybe on a “toot” (that is, a spree or drinking binge). 

The first recorded use of the term was applied not to a person, but an event. It’s a description of a parade in The Red-Blooded Heroes of the Frontier, a 1910 novel by Edgar Beecher Bronson:            
     While the Cross Cañonites were liquoring at the Fashion Bar (Circuit drinking sarsaparilla), Lame Johny, the barkeeper, remarked: "You-uns missed it a lot, not seein' the pr'cesh. She were a ring-tailed tooter for fair, with the damnedest biggest noise-makin' band you ever heard, an' th' p'rformers wearin' more pr'tys than I ever allowed was made."
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou is known in some quarters as “The Ring-Tailed Tooter of Poesy,” a title he lives up to with every stroke of his pen.

            When Henry VIII became loud and rambunctious,
            Cardinal Wolsey’s response was always quite unctuous.
            The more Wolsey “tsked,” the more Henry was boisterous,
            And if Wolsey rebuked him, then Henry grew roisterous.
            No monarch had ever been cruder or ruder,
            Which is why they called Henry a Ring-Tailed Tudor.

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