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Farmer John cheese

Erica Louder for Progressive Forage Published on 04 June 2020

As I’ve said before in this blog, I am a huge podcast follower. Recently I was looking for a podcast for writers and stumbled into a rebroadcasted radio show just perfect for word nerds like me. It is called A Way with Words.

On this show, a writer and a lexicographer (a person who edits dictionaries) team up to answer questions from listeners on English language issues and absurdities. I’ve binged listened to months of episodes over the last couple of weeks.

This binging has made me uber-aware of the language around me, the interesting idioms, the vernacular and our use of the word “literally” when we literally mean “figuratively.” The other day I had an experience I thought worthy of calling into the radio show. It is one to which my rural readers may relate.

A nutritionist stopped by our farm to pick up some blood samples my husband had taken on a client’s cattle. I was expecting him, and I met him at the door as he pulled into our driveway. He got out of his pickup and introduced himself. He quite absurdly called me Mrs. Louder. I corrected him, “Erica, please. It’s nice to meet you.” “Craig told me you guys lived out in the middle of nowhere, but I don’t think that is quite right.” Thinking he was going to comment on how quaintly secluded we were, I asked, “Oh, what is the better descriptor then?” He laughed, and as I handed him the blood tubes, he said, “BFE.” I laughed too and waved as he pulled away. I walked away, thinking, “What in the heck is BFE?” I had cattle on my mind because the only thing I could think of was mad-cow disease.

Anyway, I Googled BFE and “middle of nowhere,” and my answers came up clear on Urban Dictionary. I won’t share the actual meaning here, it’s a bit crude, but feel free to Google for yourself if you don’t already know. The way he meant it was, we lived a distance from town.

Apparently, I am the only one who did not know the meaning of the acronym, because I told my husband the story when he got home. “You didn’t know what BFE was? As a kid, I used to use it all the time.” Since he is usually the one on this side of naiveté and I am the one doing the explaining, I felt a bit defensive. “Well,” I said, “we had more sophisticated phrases growing up.” He said, “Sure you did, home skillet.”

Now, after a little laugh at my expense, I have another language story to share with you and a question to pose.

Last week, a woman called into the radio show to share an expression her dad used when she was growing up. When her dad would get after someone for not being strong enough, he would say something like, “Use your back, Jennifer. I swear you are weaker than hen-turd tea.” After the laughs of the radio show hosts died down, they explained the only origin they knew of for “hen-turd tea” was compost tea. Compost tea is a fertilizer that many home gardeners and organic farmers use, and it is notably “weak” in comparison to synthetic fertilizers. Jennifer’s dad had the same proclivity most farmers have for making up their expressions.

Okay, now for my question. I have a 4-year-old daughter, and her favorite dish is spaghetti. When do you think I should tell her that the cheese she sprinkles on her noodles is not "Farmer John cheese?"

We’d love to hear about your favorite word-folly stories. Share with us in the comments!  end mark

ILLUSTRATION: Illustration by Kristen Phillips.

Erica Louder is a freelance writer based in Idaho. Email Erica Louder.


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