Printers Row Publishing Group:


Do You Speak Boontling?

February 28, 2019

Back in the 1890s or so, the Anderson Valley was an extremely remote, sparsely populated, and very isolated farming community in northern California. The largest town there: Boonville, which lends its name to Boontling, the system of slang / secret language locals developed for gossiping purposes. Today, only about 100 people still speak and understand the 1,600-word-strong Boontling code, which combines Spanish terms, word combinations and abbreviations, and the names of prominent Boonville residents. Here’s your first lesson.




A local man named Charlie Ball was always bashful and blushing, so his first name came to mean “embarrassed.”

Jenny Beck

She was the town gossip, and instead of “tattletale,” kids called each other “Jenny Beck.”


Strong coffee. Z.C. Clifton, or “Zeese” always ordered his coffee strong and black.

Jay Esser

A major local lawsuit involved a guy named J.S. Ornbaun, and his first initials spelled out came to mean any kind of legal proceeding.


A sweet treat, from the Spanish word for sweet, dulce.

Trash mover

A rainstorm.


 Local innkeeper Allen Cooper loved to tell stories of his bear hunting exploits, so a “bearman” is a storyteller.


A mix of “old” and “dame,” referring to an elderly woman.

High heeler

A police officer, derived from a long ago sheriff who wore high-heeled boot to make up for how one leg was longer than the other.


Short for whiskey.


Short for tobacco.


The most popular dog breed in Anderson Valley was the Airedale Terrier, which have hairy around their mouths. Hairy mouth is abbreviated to haireem, the local word for dog.


There once was a tough to ride horse named Cyclone, and now all horses are known by this abbreviation of that one horse’s name.

High pockets

At one point, the wealthiest man in town also happened to be the tallest man in town, leading to this expression that means “rich.”


The Spanish word for sheep is borrego, and this is the Boontling word for sheep.


An oddball or a weirdo. Legend has it that a new family moved to town, and the children all wore hoods wherever they went, which locals considered kind of weird.


That’s the name of a local brothel madame from long ago, and eventually her name came to mean “prostitute.”

Eatin’ lizards

 That’s someone who seems far too skinny. Apparently feral cats in the area used to eat wild lizards, and they’d get sick and lose weight afterward.

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