texanist words with friends
The word “Texan” is no accepted for play in the game Words With Friends. How can this possibly be?

Illustration by Jack Unruh

Q: I am an avid player of Words With Friends. Although proper nouns are not allowed, the word “Texas” is accepted but the word “Texan” is not. How can this possibly be? I think this is a travesty that should be rectified.
Darlene Thompson, League City

A: If the Texanist were to sit down at his writing desk and jot down all the various pastimes with which he has been known to while away the hours in avoidance of his deadlines, playing Words With Friends on his mobile telephone would certainly appear on that list, alongside whittling, skipping stones, challenging the interns to rounds of mumblety-peg, and a whole slew of other entertaining inanities. He too considers himself an avid player, although his editor, wife, daughter, golf buddies, family dog, and person behind him in the drive-through line at the bank would probably choose a different descriptor on those occasions when the Texanist is hunched over in that glowy-faced WWF trance, unmoving.

For the Luddites out there, Words With Friends is similar to the classic board game Scrabble, and it just happens to have been created right here in Texas by a Mc-Kinney-based game company. The game’s list of acceptable words is based on the Enhanced North American Benchmark Lexicon and currently contains more than 173,000 possible entries. But you are right in your observation with regard to the “Texas” anomaly and the unacceptability of proper nouns. Your view, however, that the omission of “Texan” is a bunch of BS is not completely defensible. (“BS,” by the way, when spelled out, is an acceptable word, as is “cowpie,” one that always brings a smile to the Texanist’s face when he has the opportunity to play it.) It turns out that there is an alternative definition of “Texas” that is not a proper noun: a “texas” is a structure on a steamboat that houses the officer’s cabins. So while “Texan” is an unacceptable Words With Friends word, “texas” (or “taxes,” if you’d rather) will earn you a few points. Similarly, “alaska” (as in baked alaska), “colorado” (a shade of cigar), and both “new” and “jersey” are also acceptable as long as they are not used in conjunction. Now, if you’ll please excuse the Texanist, it’s his move in a lively match he’s got going with his eleven-year-old daughter. She just dropped “jodhpurs” on him for huge points, and he has nothing but a tray full of vowels.

Q: How come when I measure my head I get something other than what I know to be my actual hat size of 7 1/4?
Gerald Wilson, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

A: Hello, Mr. Wilson. How are you today? This is a great letter. The Texanist is wondering if you are the kind of man who might enjoy an occasional game of chance. And, further, he’s wondering if you are the kind of man who might sometimes like to wager a few frogskins on such action. So, Mr. Wilson, what would you say if the Texanist told you that with the information provided in your letter and nothing more, he could tell you the exact measurement in inches that you come up with every time you throw that tape measure around your noggin and then stare blankly at the tag on the inside of your hat that reads 7 1/4? No way, right? Well, what say we make it interesting? If the Texanist is off by more than an inch, he’ll pay you one crisp Lincoln, and if his guess is accurate, you’ll remit to him the same. Deal? Okay, please take a step back while the Texanist works this out. [Sound of cracking neck and knuckles, the vigorous rubbing together of hands, and the garbled mumbling of numbers being crunched.] Alrighty, Mr. Wilson, the Texanist has determined the number to be 22 and 5/8 inches. [Sound of oohs and aahs.] Oh, settle down now, Mr. Wilson. Please. The Texanist is neither magician nor hustler. No, he is not some sort of carny. He’s an advice columnist. You see, by simply reversing the formula used to determine American-style hat sizes, which involves measuring the circumference of the head in inches, as you have done, and then dividing that number by 3.14, the value of pi, a person can determine their hat size. The Texanist hopes this clears things up. Thanks for playing and please come back again soon.

Q: On a camping trip to West Texas, a friend and I came across a large rattlesnake that had recently been run over and was pretty well squished to death. We stopped to examine it, and before I knew it, my friend had cut off the snake’s head and thrown the rest of it in the back of the truck, claiming that he intended to skin it and make himself a hatband. As we drove on, we discussed whether or not his actions had been completely sound. We’re both somewhat outdoorsy and comfortable around snakes, so safety wasn’t really a concern. But as far as the rules go, were we wrong to take the snake?
Name Withheld

A: When a man is tooling along the scenic roadways of West Texas and notices a freshly run-over snake and is then suddenly struck with a quick glimpse into a future in which that man is at the center of a rapt group of bar patrons explaining how the fancy handcrafted rattlesnake-skin hatband adorning his lid once belonged to a gigantic diamondback rattler with whom he crossed paths some years ago while adventuring out in the badlands of the Trans-Pecos, that man will sometimes act reflexively and without much thought as to the potentially dire consequences of his actions. And this is how the majority of venomous snakebites occur.

As it is with all pit viper encounters, safety is rule numero uno, but as neither you nor your pardner was bit, the Texanist assumes that y’all were not in violation of this tenet. Or y’all just got lucky. Either way, rattlesnakes are a nongame species here in Texas, and although it’s not necessarily a great idea to do so, as long as it isn’t one of Texas’s few protected snakes, there is no law against picking up a dead one and making a hatband out of it. But since even non-rattling, presumed dead, road-killed rattlesnakes have been known to inject venom into curious and incautious folks, the Texanist wonders if the risk was worth the reward—even if that reward is a cool handcrafted rattlesnake-hide hatband and rich material for a great, albeit exceedingly tall, tale of West Texas derring-do.

Q: I was down in San Antonio doing reserve duty with Army Medical Command and went to a restaurant close to Fort Sam Houston one night to get good Mexican food, because, quite frankly, up north, where I reside, it is tough to get good Mexican food. I ordered something with beef, but he came back and said, “No beef.” He asked if he could substitute chicken, but when the waiter came back with my meal, he said that he was out of chicken and had substituted cabrito. I loved it and went back for more. Since then I have learned about this goat barbecue cook-off in Brady. Have you gone to it? What do you think about goat barbecue? I have added this event to my bucket list, but it will be a few years before I attend. My wife thinks I’m nuts.
Kevin F. Phillips, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

A: Since you asked, the Texanist will tell you that of all the many, many meats we Texans cook with fire, baby goat is not his absolute favorite. Tender, succulent brisket is. Or juicy pork ribs with a mouthwatering salt-and-pepper-and-oak-smoke patina. Or those plump, perfectly spiced, horseshoe-shaped sausages like the ones you get at Kreuz Market, in Lockhart. He could eat a million of those. That said, cabrito, especially when done right, is not half baaad (rimshot, please!) and, as you now know, can be quite tasty. Somehow, as a result of prior engagements over the past 41 years, the Texanist has missed every single one of Brady’s Annual World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-offs (see the barbecue editor’s dispatch from this year’s event on page 38). But this is something he intends to remedy before too long. Give the Texanist a call when you decide to make it. Maybe he’ll hitch a ride.

The Texanist’s Little-Known Fact of the Month: The original Governor Hogg Pecan, a stately tree planted, in accordance with his final wishes, in 1906 at James Stephen Hogg’s gravesite in Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery, was upon its own death replaced with another pecan, in 1969. This second Governor Hogg Pecan, overcome by drought, was unceremoniously felled in 2012. Today there is only a stump adorning the gubernatorial plot, which provides Big Jim neither nut nor shade nor peaceful rest.