The Bounty of Texas Page: 195
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Catheads, Coalbumers, and Cho-
Folk Speech in Texas Prisons
ES P I T E the obscurity of their origins or the
informality with which we use them, folk sayings
are an essential part of our conversational speech.
These expressions may be single words or entire phrases, and they
vary from region to region. Variety is also reflected among different
groups within the same geographical region. Age groups, ethnic
groups, and occupational groups contribute a multitude of colorful
expressions which, if examined individually and closely, may appear
incomprehensible. However, if each phrase is returned to its natural
context, then the listener usually understands easily. Sometimes, a
particular group invents a language all its own and through time
perpetuates this speech. For example, Texas prison inmates possess
an argot that is somewhat unique. This language is at once direct,
descriptive and, at times, ambiguous; it is also often offensive to a
In September of 1971 (the precise moment of the infamous Attica
riots in New York in which numerous convicts and hostages were
killed), I made my first trip to the Texas Department of Corrections
in Huntsville, Texas. Having spent the three previous years as an
assistant principal in a Houston-area junior high school, I jumped at
the opportunity to teach English again. Besides, I figured that my
experiences at the junior-high level had prepared me for just about
anything. Lee College, a community college in Baytown, hired me
to teach English to convict students enrolled in college classes at four
different units: Eastham, Ferguson, Wynne, and the rather imposing
Walls unit in downtown Huntsville.
My apprehension was probably evident that first morning as I
passed through barbed wire, several pickets, and a series of heavy
steel doors which slammed shut behind me. As my students finally
Here’s what’s next.
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The Bounty of Texas (Book)
This volume of the Publications of the Texas Folklore Society contains a miscellany of Texas, Mexican and Spanish folklore, including information about hunting, canning, cooking, and other folklore. The index begins on page 225.
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Abernethy, Francis Edward. The Bounty of Texas, book, 1990; Denton, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc38873/m1/207/: accessed August 21, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting UNT Press.