texanist food
When did we start calling the chicken’s “second joint” the thigh?Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: During my boyhood years, I would spend time at my father’s family farm, near Sardis, in Ellis County. The main meal was at noon and often featured fried chicken, and we kids wound up with drumsticks, wings, or “second joints.” It wasn’t until later that I learned a second joint was also called a “thigh.” I assume the shift was meant to be more decorous, since we also NEVER said “breast” but only “white meat.” Were these circumlocutions widespread?
Norman Roe, Cedar Park

A: Euphemisms for poultry parts deemed to be unmentionable in mixed company were indeed once more commonly heard around the dinner table than they are these days—especially throughout the South, where manners, like Bibles and delicious homemade fried chicken, were much more ubiquitous than they are today. The logic behind such re-branding, while under the guise of general politeness, actually had to do with the prudish and sometimes completely dead-on assumption that any edible part of an animal that carried an anatomical place-name that could be matched to a corresponding body part on the human form would prove to be too tempting for pent diners to avoid fixating upon. But even without the shield of white meats, dark meats, drumsticks, and second joints there to protect the particularly hell-bound among us from the large and juicy breasts; the lean, muscular legs; and the mysteriously tempting tenders, it’s highly unlikely that everybody at the table would have gone goo-goo-eyed as the meal devolved into a depraved, orgiastic mess the first time Uncle Carl was heard to say, “Let me grab one of those fine-looking breasts there, will you?” Even the advent of the horseless carriage, the radio, the television, the JC Penney catalog lingerie section, fast food, and the Internet have yet to bring about humanity’s end—although the music the Texanist is forced to listen to on the way to his daughter’s school in the mornings has him pondering the actual proximity of the end-times more and more. Thing is, Mr. Roe, there is no way to know exactly how prevalent these morally superior–seeming code names for chicken parts were. But it’s a fact that they are heard less now than they were in the days of those trips to the cloistered safety of your daddy’s family farm.

Q: The remodeling of Interstate Highway 35 between Austin and Hillsboro has been compared to the construction of the Great Wall of China. This is not accurate, because the Great Wall was eventually completed. For those of us who use this federal roadway regularly, do you have advice on subduing road rage, cultivating patience, and entertaining children?
Scott Brookshire, Temple

A: The Texanist is a lifelong creature of the I-35 corridor, having originally hailed from Temple (please say hello to everybody for him) and currently residing in Austin, and having taken countless car trips to Dallas, San Antonio, and, as an undergraduate, the roadway’s southern terminus at the Juárez-Lincoln International Bridge, in Laredo. He is no stranger to its ups and downs. Certain stretches do seem to be perpetual works in progress, and driving them can be truly rage-inducing. The highway department folks have sort of acknowledged this unfortunate fact by way of some new signage: “One day you’re going to love I-35. Until then, be careful.” While you and all traveling Texans wait for that “one day” to come, let the Texanist offer this: When was the last time you listened to the authentically gravelly yet smooth drawl of Muleshoe native Lee Horsley (a.k.a. television’s Matt Houston) read all one and a half riveting pounds of Lonesome Dove? The mile markers might not whiz by, but the time certainly will. Of course, the Texanist always has to pull over (if he is actually moving, that is) at the part where [unnecessary spoiler alert] Gus dies. Quite a party indeed, Captain McCrae. Quite a party indeed. (Ahem, one minute please. Yep.) Okay. Another good option is the entirety of Willie’s one-hundred-plus-album catalog. The kiddos would surely appreciate either of these fine choices. Lately, the Texanist has whiled away the highway hours staring out the window at the beautiful Texas roadside, turning sour I-35 lemons into sweet and refreshing lemonade by concocting ideas for bumper stickers with funny and catchy phrases with which his fellow drivers can jocularly commiserate. So far he’s come up with the following:

“If You Can Read This, You’re Too Damn Close—Probably Because We Are Stopped in Construction Traffic on 
I-35 AGAIN.”  ©The Texanist

Please Pray for Me as I Drive This God#@!&ed Stretch of I-35.” ©The Texanist

“Bet You Wish There Was No ‘I’ in I-35 Right About Now!” ©The Texanist 

On top of all of this, the Texanist has also used the time to amend the famous “Drive Friendly—the Texas Way” slogan for situations such as those brought on by I-35’s continual construction and workaday traffic snarls: “Drive (or Sit Completely Still for an Absurd Amount of Time on I-35) Friendly—the Texas Way.” However you choose to proceed, please do so carefully. Happy trails.

Q: I was born and raised in Houston and retired to the Hill Country in 2007. Even as a young boy I traveled over FM 32, which extends from near Wimberley to near Blanco. This roadway crosses a short outcropping of hills with curves and views of the Wimberley Valley at a spot known as the Devil’s Backbone. It’s been called the Devil’s Backbone for as long as I can remember, and I’m fairly old. Why doesn’t the State of Texas and the Texas Department of Transportation recognize the Devil’s Backbone on its state maps? Is it because this is God’s country? Do the church lobbyists keep that label from appearing?
Woody Franke, Wimberley 

A: The Texanist spent the morning mining the depths of his glove box looking for his once trusty TxDOT-issue official Texas travel map, which he eventually found buried among the sundry flashlights, screwdrivers, pliers, pressure gauges, shotgun shells, oily rags, empty toilet-paper tubes, and reading material. Truth be told, he hasn’t had much use for the old fold-up paper map since the deployment of onboard GPS-enhanced navigation systems became an option. Turns out you are right, though: sector Q-15 is without mention of the famed Devil’s Backbone. FM 32 is there and Wimberley is there. Fischer’s there. Blanco’s there. No Devil’s Backbone. However, the Texanist did spy the Devils River, the satanic FM 666 in Nueces and San Patricio counties, and the Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area (a place referred to by an old college roommate of the Texanist’s exclusively as the “Devil’s Butthole”). This seems to shoot as many holes in your theory of some kind of vast Bible-thumper conspiracy as you’re apt to find in a rural railroad crossing sign. As the Texanist was perusing the map further, he also noticed the absence of Dead Man’s Hole in Burnet County, Baby Head Cemetery in Llano County, Woman Hollering Creek in Bexar County, and Suicide Hill in his old neighborhood in Temple. It seems that while TxDOT’s official Texas travel map is good with roads, it does fail to make note of many of our state’s more colorfully named places and geographic features. Perhaps there ought to be a TxDOT map app for that. The Texanist invites you to write to them at 125 East 11th Street, Austin, Texas 78701.

The Texanist’s Little-Known Fact of the Month: In 1933 cowgirl Grace Hendricks, the future first female justice of the peace of Ector County, taking part in Odessa’s Championship Jackrabbit Roping Contest (last held in 1977), managed to lasso one of the rascally critters in an astounding five seconds flat, a record that was never broken. Odessa: the official Jackrabbit Roping Capital of Texas.