Tuesday, August 4, 2009

PRESCOTT "AS IN BISCUIT"

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In the last Blog Bit here at “STUFFS” I told y’all some stories about when I was living in Prescott, Airheadzona. While I was there, I did manage to make my presence known by writing a couple of letters which were acknowledged by the local newspaper. Below is a copy of my first letter which I wrote to Budge Ruffner, a regular newspaper columnist whose family had been in Prescott since the pioneer era.

What you need to know in advance is that one of the things that irritated me about Prescott was how the citizens were constantly bitching ‘bout the Californians who’d moved there and “ruined it.” One couldn’t go a week without encountering yet another reference to how the town had been Californicated. Never mind the fact that the majority of the population was also from elsewhere. There’d be some joker from Illinois complaining about the Californians who’d moved to Prescott.

I figured turnabout was fair play, seeing as how beginning right after World War II, the influx of Easterners and Midwesterners into California had ruined The Golden State for the natives like my Pa. Now there was an Eastward migration out of California because it was too crowded and people on the other side of the Colorado River were unhappy. Well, they weren’t getting any sympathy from THIS #$@%&! Californian.

On to my letter and Budge Ruffner’s reply:

Dear Mr. Ruffner,

With your varied endeavors and a newspaper column that needs tending, you are undoubtedly a busy man. Still, I’m hoping you will take a few minutes to solve my puzzlement.

I have been in Prescott for little over a year. (Dare I admit this? If I do’d it I get a whippin’… I do’d it) I am one of those #$@%&! who came from You-Know-Where. There are some things for which this town can be justly proud: an environment more conducive to the raising of a mentally healthy, well-adjusted child could not likely be found in this country. Sadly, however, in the category of HOSPITALITY TOWARD “OTHERS”, a Best Of Prescott certificate cannot be awarded.

My question is this: Where am I? Do I live in Prescott (“as in biscuit”) or Prescott? Upon my arrival, I took to calling it as the natives do, but have since reverted. It seems to me that unless there exists very old written or verbal documentation stating that Mr. William Hickling Prescott pronounced his name other than how it is spelled, there is no earthly reason one should assume it was prononced otherwise.

Mr. Ruffner, I am a seeker of truth, and I desire to know the true name of the community in which I live. Unless someone can provide proof that the unorthodox pronunciation is correct, the motive for the natives’ decision to call it Preskitt would unfortuantely seem to be one or both of the following: Pretentiousness (a la Beverly Hills’ “Ro-DAY-O Drive” as opposed to Rodeo Drive) or a means to differentiate “Us” from “Them” (of which I will be forever labeled unless the prevailing winds change direction).

Figuring the definitive answer to this riddle could be obtained at The Sharlot Hall Museum, I inquired there and got a decisive “I have no idea” in response.

Knowing that the Ruffners have played a significant role in Preskitt’s/scott’s development, I turn to you for help. Truly, I do not want to appear pretentious by mispronouncing my town “as in biscuit”, but likewise, I’d hate to draw attention to myself as a #$@%&! from You-Know-Where if in fact it really should be said “as in biscuit.” Please take me seriously, and please take a couple minutes to rid me of my dilemma. I will accept your answer as conclusive. I thank you in advance for your reply. Until I hear from you, I remain . . .

Somewhere In Arizona,
Stephen T. McCarthy

P.S. – You may want to print your answer in a future column; it would be doing a great service to all the #$@%&! from You-Know-Where, now living in… well, here… and in the same quandary I find myself.

Within a week, I received a note in the mail from Mr. Ruffner. Printed across the top of the note it said “Screw the golden years” and below that he had typed this:

Dear Stephen…

Your letter was just what I needed. I was desperate for a column topic. Your letter was a real gem. Gracias! Friend: Budge.


He also told me the date in which the column would appear in the local newspaper. And true to his word, the following humorous article was printed on the date he specified:

Last week I received a well-written letter from Stephen T. McCarthy. McCarthy has resided in Prescott several months and hinted, but never admitted, he had entered Arizona by crossing the Colorado River. This indicated to me that McCarthy’s former home had been LaLaLand. Beyond this burden of personal history, McCarthy may be a native of the scorched and shaky earth, riot capital, home of the dismal Dodgers and Charles Manson look-alikes state.

In any event, McCarthy is not yet acculturated to the local protocols and practices. While some disenchantment with local attitudes toward transplants was expressed, the principal complaint of McCarthy was how to pronounce the name… Prescott.

Why McCarthy directed his inquiry to me, I know not. The various “correct” pronunciations that had been offered by editors, historians, linguists, curators, archivists, the mayor and eight bartenders, all conflicted and confused the issue. As yet, the mayor can’t even spell it.

Now, the answeer is not a simple one. The truth is, there are several pronunciations of Prescott, depending on various factors. Backtrackers to Prescott, by that, I mean those new arrivals from the Pacific coast, seem to prefer the pronunciation, Presskit. This anomaly may be a result of the California school system or a chronic throat condition due to constant exposure to smog.

The affluent, old money, Ivy League types, have a slow, almost erotic pronunication, best duplicated as Press-Scott. While I do not find this offensive, it seems somehow pretentious.

Those hardy souls who have pulled their U-Hauls in from their former homes in the Bible Belt of our great nation have all settled on the pronunciation… Pre-scit. It is a short and pinched version of the name. I suspect it is rooted in an unedited, mimeographed church bulletin which they had been exposed to since childhood.

Now we should touch on the native pronunciation. First however, in Prescott, anyone who has been here long enough to pay off his new pickup, is considered a native.

Having had that defined, a native, unless borracho, normally says Presscuit, as in biscuit. This, however, has been challenged over the years by academic types. The result of this controversy has been an anti-intellectual environment nourished by local radio.

Often the problems of the present can be answerd by the past. Certainly this is true in the case of this one. When the name of this new city was being considered, several were suggested. Perhaps we had better ask the city adminstration to reconsider what has proven a bad decision. The town was almost named Granite City. Certainly an honest and descriptive name, easy to pronounce. A native of Venice suggested Venezia and when this was rejected he named his claim in the Bradshaws for his native Venice.

The citizens of Prescott Junction avoided ill feelings and bad pronunciation by changing the name of their town to Seligman.

When the meeting to name the town was held May 30, 1864, Richard McCormick, secretary of the territory, offered the name Prescott after Willam Hickling Prescott, the historian. McCormick was always a troublemaker. Goodwin City was an offering to honor the governor, when in fact he had done nothing but show up. My preference was the name Gimletville, offered by an old miner. There is a gimlet cocktail and a gimlet tool.

Within days now, petitions will be in the banks and bars, demanding that the mayor and city council change the name from Prescott to Gimletville, as it should have been in the first place. If you can’t pronounce Gimletville maybe you had better move back to Cucamonga.

(Budge Ruffner is a native Prescottonian, a historian and the author of three books.)

For those of you who do not know, Rancho Cucamonga is located in California, approximately 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

~ Stephen T. McCarthy . . .
is a native Californian raised in Dogtown; he’s a liar, a drunk, and the author of two seldom read Blogs.
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