Texas Myth #321

IT IS ILLEGAL TO PICK BLUEBONNETS.
That’s a bloomin’ lie, one that, like the bluebonnet itself, seems to re-seed, not recede, every year. No law forbids picking the state flower. However, it is illegal to trespass on private property to gather bluebonnets or remove so many you cause unsightly damage. If you do pick a few, expect dirty looks. Texans frown on the practice, legal or not, because the flower inspires reverence and uprooting it keeps baby bluebonnets from popping up next year.

Q: After those wacky Norwegians misinterpreted the “Hook ’em, Horns” sign—flashed at the inauguration by George W., Laura, and Jenna Bush—as a satanic symbol, I started wondering what that particular gesture might mean in other cultures. Also, it’s obviously the best-known university hand sign in the world; is it also the oldest?

A: Let’s think digital here: It’s a Buddhist mudra (prayerful gesture) to ward off evil and an Italian sign for “cuckold.” In American Sign Language, it means “bullshit” (or, if the thumb is extended, not folded inward, “I love you”). In Russia, it’s a derogatory motion for “nouveau riche,” and in parts of Africa, a curse. In its incarnation as the Hook ’em sign, it turns fifty this year. The index-finger-and-pinkie symbol was devised in 1955 by University of Texas student Henry Pitts and head cheerleader Harley Clark, who decided that since the archrival Aggies had a school sign, the Longhorns needed one too. Clark introduced the gesture at a pep rally, and by game time the following day, UT’s entire student body was hooked. As for which hand sign is the country’s oldest—well, the prospect of polling the 2,700 or so colleges in the U.S. makes me feel like flashing a well-known non-school sign. But as far as Texas universities go, A&M’s “Gig ’em” fist dates back to 1930, making it an even more venerable 75 years old.

Q: Like any good Texan, I know that April 21 is San Jacinto Day, the day in 1836 when Sam Houston and his men whomped Santa Anna et al in record time, shouting, “Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!” What I want to know is, Was there really a saint named Jacinto?
A: Holy moly, what a great question! Yes, there was; he was a Pole born around 1200 (actual name: Jacinth) who became a Dominican monk at the tender age of twenty and was a good-deed-doer all his life. But he had zero connection to the battle that ended the Texas Revolution. Early Spanish explorers named the San Jacinto River around the mid-eighteenth century, perhaps because they discovered it on August 17, Jacinth’s saint day, but more likely because water hyacinth, a common aquatic weed in Texas, choked large areas of the river, and jacinto means “hyacinth” in Spanish. Devout priests in nearby missions probably Catholicized the name later on by adding the “San.”

Q: Lots of Texans use the word “puredee” to mean “absolute” or “100 percent.” What is the origin of that term?
A: I was looking forward to irresponsible speculation about the origin of this hardy Southern idiom, but in fact its etymology is fairly well documented, even by the donnish Oxford English Dictionary. The “dee” is a spelled form of the letter D, which in this case stands for “damn,” a word once deemed too dirty to be spoken aloud around women, children, and preachers. The “pure” is merely an intensifier. For example, an online Midland columnist recently praised George W. Bush for his fight against “puredee Satanic Evil” (except, arguably, for hand signs).

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