In the 1980s, Wes Smoot and his friends would regularly gather outside the Redwood Drive-In in the center of their remote logging town in northern California for a beer and to put the world in its place. 

As their talk of families and news turned to hooting and hollering, they rarely worried that they’d be overheard or chastised by passers-by for the occasional vulgar comment or joke.

For Wes and his friends were among the few people in America who speak Boontling.

Now spoken by just 12 people, the language is specific to Boonville, California and was first said to have been spoken in the 1870s – roughly 20 years after the town and Anderson County was first settled in 1851. It reflects not just the remoteness of the town at that point, but also the rural lifestyles on which the town was settled: logging and livestock herding.

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Rare find! Roughly 12 people still speak Boontling - a hybrid language from remote town Boonville, CA nestled in the Anderson Valley. Rod ‘Tubbs’ Dewitt (left) and Wes 'Deacon' Smoot (right) are part of that small group and sit in the Mr Smoot's home

Rare find! Roughly 12 people still speak Boontling - a hybrid language from remote town Boonville, CA nestled in the Anderson Valley. Rod ‘Tubbs’ Dewitt (left) and Wes 'Deacon' Smoot (right) are part of that small group and sit in the Mr Smoot's home

Rare find! Roughly 12 people still speak Boontling – a hybrid language from remote town Boonville, CA nestled in the Anderson Valley. Rod ‘Tubbs’ Dewitt (left) and Wes ‘Deacon’ Smoot (right) are part of that small group and sit in the Mr Smoot’s home

‘A group of the old heads got together and created the Boontling club and they would meet up and tell stories,’ says Wes, who describes himself as an ‘almost 85-year-old.’

‘Well, I wanted to get into the group because I was afraid that they were talking about me – so I learned as a means of self-defense when I was in my 30s or 40s.’

Boontling is a homegrown language believed to have first come into use in the 1870s and 1880s – roughly 20 years after the town and Anderson County were settled in 1851 by three brothers who wanted to establish a viable logging community. ‘Boont’ stands for the town Boonville, while ‘ling’ comes from the word lingo.

It is a fusion of more familiar languages with components of Irish, English, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish and even Pomoan – from the native Pomo people of northern California who lived in the valley prior to the settlers.

Bootling’s origins are unclear, but Wes offers a few possible theories.

‘It was said that Boontling started because the old folks wanted to be able to talk without the children knowing,’ says Wes, whose nickname, Deacon, comes from when he was a child and would stand silently in the corner.

‘But kids pick up things quickly and so soon that they were speaking it too.’

Perhaps his favorite folk legend, however, tells of a San Francisco woman who got pregnant out of wedlock and whose wealthy parents shipped her north so she could have her child. 

Wes, 84, and his friends used to sit outside the Redwood Drive-In to hoot, holler and speak Boontling without worrying about other people understanding them. He sits outside his home with a copy of a Boontling dictionary

Wes, 84, and his friends used to sit outside the Redwood Drive-In to hoot, holler and speak Boontling without worrying about other people understanding them. He sits outside his home with a copy of a Boontling dictionary

Wes, 84, and his friends used to sit outside the Redwood Drive-In to hoot, holler and speak Boontling without worrying about other people understanding them. He sits outside his home with a copy of a Boontling dictionary

A map detailing 'Boontling Country' sits outside the Drive-In showing just how important the rural lifestyle was for the remote town

A map detailing 'Boontling Country' sits outside the Drive-In showing just how important the rural lifestyle was for the remote town

A map detailing ‘Boontling Country’ sits outside the Drive-In showing just how important the rural lifestyle was for the remote town

The population of Boonville is just over 1,000 and the word Boontling is derived from the town's name and the word 'lingo'

The population of Boonville is just over 1,000 and the word Boontling is derived from the town's name and the word 'lingo'

The population of Boonville is just over 1,000 and the word Boontling is derived from the town’s name and the word ‘lingo’

He says: ‘She worked out in the hop fields and the women there didn’t want to refer to her by name so they would make up words to talk to their husbands with.’

The language was passed on orally, with roughly 1600 words coming from everyday situations, based on what a person hears, sees, smells or experiences.

Take the word for ‘good,’ for example, which is ‘bahl’ in Boontling. Wes explains that bahl was a popular shoe brand that was widely accepted as the best in the area. So naturally the word for good had to come from the association with those shoes.

Boontling is a fusion of more familiar languages with components of Irish, English, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish and even Pomoan – from the native Pomo people of northern California who lived in the valley prior to the settlers. A copy of Boontling An American Lingo which is an official dictionary created in 1971 by professor Charles C. Adams

Boontling is a fusion of more familiar languages with components of Irish, English, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish and even Pomoan – from the native Pomo people of northern California who lived in the valley prior to the settlers. A copy of Boontling An American Lingo which is an official dictionary created in 1971 by professor Charles C. Adams

Boontling is a fusion of more familiar languages with components of Irish, English, Scottish Gaelic, Spanish and even Pomoan – from the native Pomo people of northern California who lived in the valley prior to the settlers. A copy of Boontling An American Lingo which is an official dictionary created in 1971 by professor Charles C. Adams

For thunder and lightning – ‘herc’ for Hercules, who threw lightning, and ‘barlon,’ which is the sound a gunshot makes, for thunder – help create ‘Jeffer,’ or fire.

‘Burlapping’ means having sex but it doesn’t mean f****** and when people are visiting the town, they are called ‘bright lighters’.’

Wes even calls himself a ‘downstreamer’ – a direct reference to when salmon go back down stream to die after they’ve mated up north – to acknowledge his age.

Anyone can pitch a new word, but it has to go through a rigorous vetting process, says Wes, who has created four of his own words.

He says: ‘We would talk and you would drop a word and not explain it and people were too proud to ask what the word meant.

‘So then they would go home and think about it and come back the next day and give their thoughts. 

‘That’s how a word gets accepted by the group. Now about a dozen of us meet up but I don’t go that often.’ 

Wes claimed that there is speculation as to where the language came from. ‘It was said that Boontling started because the old folks wanted to be able to talk without the children knowing,’ says Wes whose nickname comes from when he was a child and would stand silently in the corner. But kids pick up things quickly and so soon that they were speaking it too’

Wes claimed that there is speculation as to where the language came from. ‘It was said that Boontling started because the old folks wanted to be able to talk without the children knowing,’ says Wes whose nickname comes from when he was a child and would stand silently in the corner. But kids pick up things quickly and so soon that they were speaking it too’

Wes claimed that there is speculation as to where the language came from. ‘It was said that Boontling started because the old folks wanted to be able to talk without the children knowing,’ says Wes whose nickname comes from when he was a child and would stand silently in the corner. But kids pick up things quickly and so soon that they were speaking it too’

A Slib of Lorey is Boontling for A Bit of Folklore

A Slib of Lorey is Boontling for A Bit of Folklore

Charles C. Adams visited the Valley in the 1960s and after extensive research came up with the book in 1971

Charles C. Adams visited the Valley in the 1960s and after extensive research came up with the book in 1971

Perhaps his favorite folk legend, however, tells of a San Francisco woman who got pregnant out of wedlock and whose wealthy parents shipped up north so she could have her child. These two books A Slib of Lorey (A Bit Of Folklore) and Boontling an American Lingo tell of the supposed origins of Boontling

With a population just barely breaking 1,000 residents, a huge portion of the town already doesn’t use Boontling in their everyday speak.

‘Very few women speak it, but we know that they know what’s being said,’ says Wes.

‘Boontling is a taboo language and when the guys get together we talk dirty.

‘They may not speak it but we know when they start giggling or snickering that they understand what’s being said and we will change the topic.’  

A map of Boonville sits outside the Drive-In and offers a view of the town's beginning. In 1851 brothers Henry Beeson, Isaac Beeson and step brother William Anderson settled in what would become Anderson Valley just two and a half hours north of San Francisco and roughly 30 minutes from the Pacific coastline

A map of Boonville sits outside the Drive-In and offers a view of the town's beginning. In 1851 brothers Henry Beeson, Isaac Beeson and step brother William Anderson settled in what would become Anderson Valley just two and a half hours north of San Francisco and roughly 30 minutes from the Pacific coastline

A map of Boonville sits outside the Drive-In and offers a view of the town’s beginning. In 1851 brothers Henry Beeson, Isaac Beeson and step brother William Anderson settled in what would become Anderson Valley just two and a half hours north of San Francisco and roughly 30 minutes from the Pacific coastline

In more recent times, Anderson valley has become known as a crucial vineyard area with more than 30 tasting rooms and most notably the Boonville Beer Festival

In more recent times, Anderson valley has become known as a crucial vineyard area with more than 30 tasting rooms and most notably the Boonville Beer Festival

In more recent times, Anderson valley has become known as a crucial vineyard area with more than 30 tasting rooms and most notably the Boonville Beer Festival

The legend of the Map of Boont Land offers a brief glimpse at the eccentric nature of Boontling. Anyone can pitch a new word but it has to go through a rigorous vetting process according to Wes, who has created four of his own words

The legend of the Map of Boont Land offers a brief glimpse at the eccentric nature of Boontling. Anyone can pitch a new word but it has to go through a rigorous vetting process according to Wes, who has created four of his own words

The legend of the Map of Boont Land offers a brief glimpse at the eccentric nature of Boontling. Anyone can pitch a new word but it has to go through a rigorous vetting process according to Wes, who has created four of his own words

Today, Wes no longer sits outside the Drive-In and only a handful of people speak the language fluently.

Most of his friends have passed away and the younger generations aren’t too enthusiastic about learning the language, leaving Wes with hardly anyone to converse with in Boontling.

However, some companies do use the language to advertise to potential tourists. The Anderson Valley Brewing Company, for example, has a word of the week posted inside its building, as well as ‘Bahl Hornin’ – or ‘Good Drinkin’ – on its beer cans and merchandise.

The Anderson Valley Brewing Company uses Boontling in its advertisements to bring in tourists, who flock to the area for the county's wine. About creating new words, Wes says: ‘We would talk and you would drop a word and not explain it and people were too proud to ask what the word meant. So then they would go home and think about it and come back the next day and give their thoughts.

The Anderson Valley Brewing Company uses Boontling in its advertisements to bring in tourists, who flock to the area for the county's wine. About creating new words, Wes says: ‘We would talk and you would drop a word and not explain it and people were too proud to ask what the word meant. So then they would go home and think about it and come back the next day and give their thoughts.

The Anderson Valley Brewing Company uses Boontling in its advertisements to bring in tourists, who flock to the area for the county’s wine. About creating new words, Wes says: ‘We would talk and you would drop a word and not explain it and people were too proud to ask what the word meant. So then they would go home and think about it and come back the next day and give their thoughts.

A woman pours Hobneelch'n beer at the brewing company. Hobneelch'n is loosely translated to meaning Dance Party

A woman pours Hobneelch'n beer at the brewing company. Hobneelch'n is loosely translated to meaning Dance Party

A woman pours Hobneelch’n beer at the brewing company. Hobneelch’n is loosely translated to meaning Dance Party

The phrase means 'Only a person behind the times doesn't drink Anderson Valley beer'

The phrase means 'Only a person behind the times doesn't drink Anderson Valley beer'

The phrase means 'In the bathroom. Back in a minute'

The phrase means 'In the bathroom. Back in a minute'

Drink coasters even have Boontling slogans on them as businesses take advantage of the local language’s novelty and tourism potential

A woman holds a shirt that's for sale in Anderson Valley - emblazoned with the Boontling slogan: 'The Best F*****g Beer Known To Man'

A woman holds a shirt that's for sale in Anderson Valley - emblazoned with the Boontling slogan: 'The Best F*****g Beer Known To Man'

A woman holds a shirt that’s for sale in Anderson Valley – emblazoned with the Boontling slogan: ‘The Best F*****g Beer Known To Man’

Wes was born and raised in Boontling and spent a majority of his years in the small town before he picked up the language in the late 1960s and early 70s.

He had served in the Korean War and spent some time working for the California Department of Transportation before returning to a home he hardly knew anymore.

Learning Boontling, he quickly became a pillar in the community, acting as something of a historian and teaching those willing to learn the daunting language.

One of the people he has helped mentor is Rod ‘Tubbs’ Dewitt, a Director of Plant Engineering & Process Control at Anderson Valley Brewing Co.

Originally from a town 30 miles away, Rod was smitten with Boontling as a child before he moved to Anderson Valley in his 20s after buying property there.

Wes helped mentor Rod ‘Tubbs’ Dewitt, a Director of Plant Engineering & Process Control at Anderson Valley Brewing Co, in the ways of Boontling. Rod with a souvenir from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Wes helped mentor Rod ‘Tubbs’ Dewitt, a Director of Plant Engineering & Process Control at Anderson Valley Brewing Co, in the ways of Boontling. Rod with a souvenir from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Wes helped mentor Rod ‘Tubbs’ Dewitt, a Director of Plant Engineering & Process Control at Anderson Valley Brewing Co, in the ways of Boontling. Rod with a souvenir from the Anderson Valley Brewing Company

Outside the brewing company. Originally from a town 30 miles away, Rod was smitten with Boontling as a child before he moved to Anderson Valley in his 20s after buying property there

Outside the brewing company. Originally from a town 30 miles away, Rod was smitten with Boontling as a child before he moved to Anderson Valley in his 20s after buying property there

Outside the brewing company. Originally from a town 30 miles away, Rod was smitten with Boontling as a child before he moved to Anderson Valley in his 20s after buying property there

‘We would be out at camp somewhere and there was a Boontling corner and I was familiar with it but I wanted to know what they were talking about,’ says Rod, who learned the language over the past 30 years

‘We would be out at camp somewhere and there was a Boontling corner and I was familiar with it but I wanted to know what they were talking about,’ says Rod, who learned the language over the past 30 years

‘We would be out at camp somewhere and there was a Boontling corner and I was familiar with it but I wanted to know what they were talking about,’ says Rod, who learned the language over the past 30 years

‘We would be out at camp somewhere and there was a Boontling corner and I was familiar with it, but I wanted to know what they were talking about,’ says Rod, whose nickname, Tubbs, comes from his drum hobby.

‘That way I could say something back.’

For more than 30 years, Rod has been doing what he could to learn the ever-changing language. He’s managed to learn 1,000 of the words and has even created a few of his own – but he adds a note of caution for those who do try to come up with new lingo.

He says: ‘They should vet it really well. You can’t just take something out the dictionary and out of context.

‘It is hard to turn idioms into Boontling and there isn’t a Boontling word for everything.

Rod waits outside Wes's home in Boonville. He has created a few words on his own but cautions against the practice. He says: ‘They should vet it really well. You can’t just take something out the dictionary and out of context. It is hard to turn idioms into Boontling and there isn’t a Boontling word for everything'

Rod waits outside Wes's home in Boonville. He has created a few words on his own but cautions against the practice. He says: ‘They should vet it really well. You can’t just take something out the dictionary and out of context. It is hard to turn idioms into Boontling and there isn’t a Boontling word for everything'

Rod waits outside Wes’s home in Boonville. He has created a few words on his own but cautions against the practice. He says: ‘They should vet it really well. You can’t just take something out the dictionary and out of context. It is hard to turn idioms into Boontling and there isn’t a Boontling word for everything’

He says: ‘It was a very agrarian lifestyle with fishing, farming and cutting down trees. They did a few fun things in life like drink and have sex, go to church and go on picnics so it was a pretty simple time.’ Rod and Wes sit outside and talk in Boontling

He says: ‘It was a very agrarian lifestyle with fishing, farming and cutting down trees. They did a few fun things in life like drink and have sex, go to church and go on picnics so it was a pretty simple time.’ Rod and Wes sit outside and talk in Boontling

He says: ‘It was a very agrarian lifestyle with fishing, farming and cutting down trees. They did a few fun things in life like drink and have sex, go to church and go on picnics so it was a pretty simple time.’ Rod and Wes sit outside and talk in Boontling

‘It was a very agrarian lifestyle with fishing, farming and cutting down trees. They did a few fun things in life like drink and have sex, go to church and go on picnics, so it was a pretty simple time.’

Rod referred to Wes as a Senior Statesman, stating that most of the ‘ole timers’ are gone – and with them the oral history and context of the language – but he thinks creating a dictionary of Boontling will be important in preserving its legacy.

‘We are in the process of making it official,’ he says.

‘A lot of things that I can vet, cross check and get anecdotes and history.

‘We hope once we publish that any proceeds from the book that we sell will go back to the schools and the Anderson Valley historical society because I don’t think any one person should benefit.’

The 59-year-old doesn’t see many young people taking up the language but is happy his 16-year-old granddaughter is taking on Boontling for a school project.

‘I’m glad I get to share with her the history of Boontling and Boonville,’ says Rod.

Rod referred to Wes as a Senior Statesman stating that most of the ‘ole timers’ are gone and with them the oral history and context of the language but thinks creating a dictionary of Boontling will be important in preserving its legacy

Rod referred to Wes as a Senior Statesman stating that most of the ‘ole timers’ are gone and with them the oral history and context of the language but thinks creating a dictionary of Boontling will be important in preserving its legacy

Rod referred to Wes as a Senior Statesman stating that most of the ‘ole timers’ are gone and with them the oral history and context of the language but thinks creating a dictionary of Boontling will be important in preserving its legacy

‘We hope once we publish that any proceeds from the book that we sell will go back to the schools and the Anderson Valley historical society because I don’t think any one person should benefit,' says Rod

‘We hope once we publish that any proceeds from the book that we sell will go back to the schools and the Anderson Valley historical society because I don’t think any one person should benefit,' says Rod

‘We hope once we publish that any proceeds from the book that we sell will go back to the schools and the Anderson Valley historical society because I don’t think any one person should benefit,’ says Rod

A logo for Anderson Valley Brewing Company uses Boontling and says good drinking. Rod hopes to preserve the language any way that he can. He is working with his granddaughter on her school project about Boontling.

A logo for Anderson Valley Brewing Company uses Boontling and says good drinking. Rod hopes to preserve the language any way that he can. He is working with his granddaughter on her school project about Boontling.

A logo for Anderson Valley Brewing Company uses Boontling and says good drinking. Rod hopes to preserve the language any way that he can. He is working with his granddaughter on her school project about Boontling.

‘You don’t want to remember the pain, you want to remember the good times. You don’t want to see something that is that clever or fun fade away.’

In 1851 brothers Henry Beeson, Isaac Beeson and step brother William Anderson settled in what would become Anderson Valley just two and a half hours north of San Francisco and roughly 30 minutes from the Pacific coastline.

These Scot and Irish American travelers mingled with the Pomo Indians who helped the settlers maintain their lives.

Isolated and nestled in mountains, the valley – which resides in Mendocino County – soon become a haven for peaceful farming and livestock ranching but truly excelled as a redwood logging community.

Boonville quickly became the epicenter of the area with other smaller towns Yorkville, Philo and Navarro surrounding and supporting the bustling community.

 Rod says: ‘This place is like England or Ireland with just wave after wave.

‘First were the Pomo, then the Scot and Irish Americans created Boonville. The Italians came in and mixed really well and so did the Scandinavians.

In more recent times, Anderson Valley has become known as a crucial vineyard area with more than 30 tasting rooms and most notably hosts the Boonville Beer Festival.

Rod notes that beginning as early as the 1970s, hippies began moving into the area and mingled with the families already there,

During the 1960s, a researcher named Charles C. Adams went to Boonville and studied the language before writing a dissertation on what he had discovered.

The former Chico State University English professor published Boontling: An American Lingo in 1971, producing an at-the-time current dictionary with explanations of each word’s origin.

Boontling gained a small bubble of fame following the release of the book with Wes, along with a few other residents of Boonville, tapped to appear on television, magazines and radio shows.

In the mid-1970s, fluent Boontling speaker Bobby (Chipmunk) was a series regular guest on the show The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Boontling historian Jack (Wee Fuzz) June appeared on the show To Tell the Truth.

With the words of Boontling living on in popular culture, Wes isn’t too concerned with the language sticking around but is more worried about Anderson Valley.

Rod and Wes (left and right) stand outside the latter's home. Tourist come from across the country to see the fine wine of Anderson Valley and hope to catch a quick conversation between the last group of people who speak Boontling

Rod and Wes (left and right) stand outside the latter's home. Tourist come from across the country to see the fine wine of Anderson Valley and hope to catch a quick conversation between the last group of people who speak Boontling

Rod and Wes (left and right) stand outside the latter’s home. Tourist come from across the country to see the fine wine of Anderson Valley and hope to catch a quick conversation between the last group of people who speak Boontling

Wes says: ‘It is fighting the elements now because not enough people want to learn it anymore.

‘Luckily there is enough literature out there that the language will never die but my main concern is that the history of the valley stay intact because that is what’s important.’

Wes has seen a growing number of tourists visiting to experience firsthand the language for themselves. The geography has changed drastically since he was younger, with more travel accommodations created to meet their growing demand.

The tourists all want one thing – to hear someone speak a nearly-forgotten language.

‘Tourists mostly just grin and nod because they can’t understand what I am saying,’ he says.

‘If they knew what we were saying things would go awfully.’ 

Learn a little Boontling: 20 words you can use in your everyday conversations

 English

Boonville

lingo

bit

folklore

wild goose chase 

dance party 

beer

man/person

good

best

minutes

person behind the times 

Anderson Valley 

bathroom

thunder

having sex 

pensioner

to talk 

rain

fire 

 Boontling

 Boont

ling 

slib

lorey

cy miller

 Hobneelchin

Steinber

kimmie

bahl

bahlest

dubs’

back dated chuck

boont region

taipin’ nook

barlon

burlapping 

downstream 

harp

peeril

Jeffer 

Source