At the top of the list of things they’re not supposed to mess with when people are cautioned with the words “Don’t Mess With Texas” is the slogan itself. As Manny Fernandez reports in the New York Times TXDOT, which holds the trademark on the phrase, has filed over 100 cease-and-desist letters since 2000 to companies making unauthorized use of “Don’t Mess With Texas.”
The history of the phrase—which was coined in 1985 as part of an antilittering campaign—has been well-documented, but TXDOT’s determination to protect it (“to prevent ‘Don’t Mess With Texas’ from losing its original antilittering message,” according to state officials cited in Fernandez’s story) is a bit surprising. The phrase has been widely used in other contexts by people from George W. Bush (who included it in his speech accepting to the Republican Presidential nomination in 2000) to Greg Abbott (who dropped it on Twitter earlier this month to congratulate two Dallas-area teenagers on helping stop a kidnapping), which presumably makes the stated goal of retaining the antilittering message a difficult task. Over at UrbanDictionary.com, a skirmish appears to have been waged surrounding that confusing context.
Of course, “Don’t Mess With Texas” isn’t the only unofficial state slogan to receive official protection: “Remember The Alamo” has been at the heart of similar legal battles in Texas, and a New York coffee shop ran afoul of “I ♥ NY” earlier this year. Still, just because TXDOT has its finger on the “cease-and-desist” button doesn’t mean there isn’t a plethora of unsanctioned “Don’t Mess With Texas” merchandise running around out there.
The romance novel cited in Fernandez’s report may have been required to change its name, but on Amazon, they’re still selling it as Don’t Mess With Texas.
In addition to George W. Bush and Greg Abbott, no less a Texas icon than Nolan Ryan has claimed the phrase, signing memorabilia with the words “Don’t Mess With Texas” proudly beneath his signature.
Houston rapper and Screwed Up Click founding member Lil’ Keke, meanwhile, used the phrase as the title of his 1997 debut album, Don’t Mess Wit Texas.
Lil’ Keke isn’t the only Texas musician to claim a fondness for the phrase, though. This 1997 Leann Rimes t-shirt bears the words proudly on the back.
It also appears on this shirt featuring official “Don’t Mess With Texas” spokesman Willie Nelson, albeit presumably in a less-than-official capacity.
The words “Don’t Mess With Texas” don’t actually appear on this shirt from Arlington’s favorite metal sons, Pantera, but the combination of the big Texas flag and “Don’t Mess With Me” probably just means that they wanted to recall the phrase without risking a lawsuit.
That probably makes this the only time that anyone would accuse the Pantera guys of being more timid than the manufacturer of a collectible souvenir spoon, then.
If one wishes to both display their Texan pride/antilittering bonafides and be fabulous, there’s this rhinestone iron-on.
Fans of various football teams, including the Texans, Cowboys, Longhorns, and Aggies (sorry, Horned Frogs), can honor their team’s commitment to not being messed with and/or highway cleanliness with these art prints, as well.
In keeping in the campaign’s spirit of cleanliness, might we recommend some soap?
Even more in the spirit of the campaign, “Don’t Mess With Texas” by stubbing out your butts in this Texas-shaped ashtray.
Alternately, you could mess with Texas by leaving golf balls emblazoned with the phrase littering the area near the golf course, since you’re probably not as good as you think you are.
In any case, despite the best efforts of TXDOT, there will always be those who view “Don’t Mess With Texas” as a slogan heralding the state’s superiority to the lesser 49. The folks who are proud of that might enjoy this two-for-one t-shirt package, which pairs a “Don’t Mess With Texas” logo tee (with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, naturally) with one that reads “SECEDE.”
Texans whose politics run counter to the AR-15 crowd, meanwhile, might recall fondly the orange-shirted days of filibustering and abortion rights fights at the Capitol this summer; for them, a bright orange “Don’t Mess With Texas Women” t-shirt (surrounding a proud uterus) would probably be more appropriate.
If all of that is too ostentatious for you, though, and you’d prefer to keep your Texas pride subtly tucked away in the most unlikely of places, fear not: you can simply adorn your motorcycle’s shift linkage with the phrase, allowing anyone examining your bike very, very closely to rest assured that you’re no litterbug.
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