Boontling plaque in Boonville
Boontling plaque in Boonville

Boontling is a jargon[1] or argot spoken only in Boonville in Northern California. Today it is nearly extinct, and fewer than 100 people still speak it.[2] It has an IANA sub-tag of boont (i.e. en-boont).[3]

History and description

Although Boontling is based on English, many of its unusual words are unique to Boonville, California. Scottish Gaelic and Irish, and some Pomoan and Spanish words also contribute to this jargon.[4] Boontling was invented in the late nineteenth century and had quite a following at the turn of the twentieth century. It is now mostly spoken by aging counter-culturists and native Anderson Valley residents. Because the town of Boonville has only a little more than 700 residents, Boontling is an extremely esoteric jargon, and is quickly becoming archaic. It has over a thousand unique words and phrases.


The Anderson Valley, of which Boonville is the largest town, was an isolated farming, ranching, and logging community during the late nineteenth century. There are several differing versions as to the origin of Boontling. Some assert that the jargon was created by the women, children, and young men in the hop fields and sheep shearing sheds as a means of recreation, and that it spread through the community as the children continued using it when they grew up.[5] Myrtle R. Rawles explains that Boontling was started by the children of Boonville as a language game which enabled them to speak freely in front of elders without being understood.[6] It is believed that the jargon originated from Ed (Squirrel) Clement and Lank McGimsey, circa 1890.


Based on interviews of family and neighbors, Rawles wrote an article, "'Boontling': Esoteric Speech of Boonville, California," published in 1966 by the California Folklore Society (presently Western States Folklore Society) in Western Folklore, Volume 25, No. 2, and reprinted under the title Boontling, or the strange Boonville language by the Mendocino County Historical Society in 1967.[7] Researcher Charles C. Adams studied the lingo in the 1960s and wrote a doctoral dissertation based on his research. In 1971 University of Texas Press published his book, Boontling: an American Lingo, which included an extensive dictionary.[8] Boontling briefly enjoyed a national audience in the mid-1970s when a Boontling speaker named Bobby (Chipmunk) Glover was a regular guest on the well-known The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on the NBC television network. Boontling historian Jack (Wee Fuzz) June appeared on the game show To Tell the Truth and was so well known by this point that panelist Kitty Carlisle had to disqualify herself from the judging. Because Boontling is a spoken jargon rather than a written one, spellings of its words vary greatly. Most spellings were not formalized until the 1970s, primarily by the writings of Jack (Wee Fuzz) June.























See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Stina Sieg, "Do You Harp A Slib Of The Ling? One Small Town's Opaque Language" at, 17 January 2015
  3. ^
  4. ^ Haddock, Vicki. "Hamlet's Dying Lingo" in San Francisco Chronicle, February 5, 2001.
  5. ^ a b A Little Boont Archived April 9, 2007, at the Wayback Machine at the Anderson Valley Museum
  6. ^ Rawles, Myrtle R. (1967); Boontling: The Strange Boonville Language. Mendocino Historical Society, p.3
  7. ^ Boontling, or the strange Boonville language at
  8. ^ "Hamlet's Dying Lingo" in San Francisco Chronicle
  9. ^ Adams traces boshe to the Pomo Indian word bishe. However, Myrtle Rawles attributes it to "bosch", a South African antelope (see the definition: bosch Archived December 7, 2005, at the Wayback Machine "bosch-bok, n. bush-buck; kind of antelope." at, surmising that the word was taken into Boontling after Theodore Roosevelt's 1909 African safari. (Rawles, p.5) In his oral history, Ernest Rawles attributed it to the French word "Boche" for the Germans, and claimed that this term developed in Boontling only after World War I, when returning veterans were fond of saying: "Its time to go hunt the Boshe."
  10. ^ a b c Boontling dictionary Archived March 22, 2007, at the Wayback Machine at the Mendocino Middle School Boontling Page
  11. ^ Turkey Vulture (September 11, 2013). "Bird's Eye View". Anderson Valley Advertiser. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  12. ^ Boontling: An American Lingo, by Charles Adams, ISBN 0-939665-05-0, p.227.


Further reading