English English language Etymology Expression Language Usage Writing

From the horse’s mouth

Q: What is the dialect spoken in that quote from Kipling in your “All het up” post? In addition to “het up,” the speaker uses “cramp,” “her,” “them,” and “piece” in nonstandard ways.

A: In “A Walking Delegate,” an 1894 short story by Rudyard Kipling, horses speak a language that combines several regional American dialects.

The Deacon, one of the talking horses in the story, is quoted in the passage cited: “You look consider’ble het up. Guess you’d better cramp her under them pines, an’ cool off a piece.”

“Het up” here means heated up, “cramp” is to turn a wagon around sharply, “her” stands for “it,” while “them” means “these” or “those,” and “a piece” indicates a while, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English.

The story has many other regionalisms, including “dreffle” (dreadfully), “harr” (hair), “natchul” (naturally), “ner haow” (no how), “nigh” (near), “sociable” (a party), and “sperrity” (spirited).

In the Kipling allegory, one of the horses, Boney, tries to get the others to rise up against their human oppressors. The Deacon and other older horses keep the younger ones from falling under Boney’s sway.

The title of the story refers to a union official who visits locals to make sure that workplace rules and agreements are followed. Kipling didn’t much like unions, socialism, or democracy.

In Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work (1955), the Cambridge historian Charles E. Carrington sees “A Walking Delegate” as a dialectal showpiece: “Though told as a horse story, it is more remarkable for the skilful use of several American dialects than for horse-lore.”

Kipling was living in Vermont when he wrote the story. He was married to a Vermonter, Carrie Balestier.

In Something of Myself, a memoir that was unfinished when Kipling died in 1936, he writes, “I tried to give something of the fun and flavour of those days in a story called ‘A Walking Delegate’ where all the characters are from horse-life.”

The story was a forerunner of another political allegory, Animal Farm (1945), by George Orwell. In Animal Farm, a group of farm animals rebel against a human farmer, but end up under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon.

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