Fort Worth Crease.

Charles Portis recently died; I’d long been meaning to give him a try, since he’s a classic Arkansas writer and my paternal roots are in that state, so when my brother told me that Amazon had lowered the price on his novels to $1.99 for the Kindle editions I grabbed them, and I’ve started on his first, Norwood. It’s just as funny and brilliantly written as it was cracked up to be; I’m going to quote two paragraphs from the early going, and you can judge on the basis of those whether it’s something that will hit your sweet spot:

They later moved to a tin-roof house that was situated in a gas field under a spectacular flare that burned all the time. Big copper-green beetles the size of mice came from all over the Southland to see it and die in it. At night their little toasted corpses pankled down on the tin roof.

* * *

But she was gone these many years and now the old mechanic too, he who had shaken his head and wiped his hands and told at least a thousand people they were losing oil through the main bearing, had joined her. Norwood missed the funeral but Clyde Rainey had gone and he said it had all been very nice. More people came than reasonably could have been expected. There were a good many flowers too. The funeral home had scrubbed Mr. Pratt down with Boraxo and Clyde said he had never seen him looking so clean and radiant.

“More people came than reasonably could have been expected”: that there is a perfect sentence. But what drove me to post is this later passage:

Sometimes he sat on the back steps wearing a black hat with a Fort Worth crease and played his guitar—just three or four chords really—and sang “Always Late—With Your Kisses,” with his voice breaking like Lefty Frizzell, and “China Doll” like Slim Whitman, whose upper range is hard to match.

Of course I was struck by the term “Fort Worth crease” and googled it, and it’s a thing, and someone had wondered about it before me, and the Languagehat terms of service require me to post hat-related material at reasonable intervals, so here we are.


  1. In one of the obits for Portis I came across a paragraph from “The Dog of the South.” The narrator is in some sort of diner and orders roast beef, but the waitress “brought me a plate of fish sticks and the smallest portion of coleslaw I’ve ever seen. It was in a paper nut cup. I didn’t say anything because they have a rough job. Those waitresses are on their feet all day and they never get a raise and they never get a vacation until they quit. The menu was complete fiction. She was serving the fish sticks to everybody, and not a uniform count either.”

    That last phrase — and not a uniform count either— just cracked me up.

    I haven’t read any of his novels but I think I must.

  2. Yup, if you like that you’ll like Portis. Shame he only wrote five!

  3. Amazon Kindle now has the book at $2.25. The “languagehat bump” strikes again.

  4. As a man known for his broad-brimmed hat, I feel confident saying that that Fort Worth crease is the ugliest way of creasing a hat that I have ever seen.

  5. Stu Clayton says

    The “languagehat bump” strikes again.

    It don’t bother me. I’m all hat and no Kindle.

  6. pankled ?
    Is this a local dialect word ? It seems clear what it means but I can’t find it in MW, OED, Green’s, nGram.

  7. When there are no appropriate words, he will make them up, like the word “pankled” in the Norwood line mentioned above. — Jay Jennings, 2012

    “One of these [roundhouse punches] connected, and a chip of tooth pankled off a can of Coke Classic on the table.” — Thom Jones, 1994

    “The walkie-talkie suddenly pankled very loudly into action.” — Sophie Thompson, 2017

    cf. PINKLE-PANKLE, sb, “the sound of liquid in a bottle” — Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia, 1826

  8. John Cowan says

    Stu: There are Kindle apps for the PC, the Mac, and the usual assortment of phones.

    It used to be that when an author died the prices of his books went sky-high because of suddenly increased demand. But perhaps that only ever applied to famous and/or notorious authors, or those who met unusual kinds of death such as being murdered.

  9. That last phrase — and not a uniform count either— just cracked me up.

    That phrase strikes me as being in the wrong level of discourse. Shouldn’t it be “neither” rather than “either”? Or is the narrator supposed to be from the overeducated classes? In my head I’m reading that in an Arkansas accent but maybe I shouldn’t be.

  10. It’s not overeducated to say “either”; even in Arkansas people are taught normal English. That doesn’t prevent them from using lively turns of phrase. It’s a mistake to think of people from Arkansas, or anywhere in the South, as either overeducated or illiterate hicks.

  11. Stu Clayton says

    It’s a mistake to think of people from Arkansas, or anywhere in the South, as either overeducated or illiterate hicks.

    Damn tootin !

  12. PlasticPaddy says

    @stu, hat, vanta
    What is difficult in certain southern us accents is actually to sound boorish. The actor who plays Sheldon in “the big bang theory” is a case in point and sounds to my ears refined, no matter what he is saying and how he is behaving.

  13. I don’t think of “not a uniform count neither” (or other double negatives) as illiterate, simply a class distinction. That strikes me as more normal colloquial English (I grew up in rural New Hampshire) and using “either” means you are code switching.

  14. Ah, well that’ll be a regional thing. I have a bunch of relatives from the Ozarks and I can’t imagine any of them saying “neither” in that context. Not saying it doesn’t exist, mind you.

  15. Stu Clayton says

    There are Kindle apps for the PC, the Mac, and the usual assortment of phones.

    I know that. In consequence, I know I don’t want any of them. When I have the choice I buy books, not electrons swirling around in “views”. I get enough of this virtual crap when working.

  16. J.W. Brewer says

    The NP “uniform count” strikes my ear as sufficiently non-colloquial in register that anyone who regularly code-switched in and out of negative concord might thereby be primed to select “either” rather than “neither.” But obviously others’ ears may vary in their intuitions.

  17. I know it’s a terrible idea to try to explain why you find something funny, but for me the abrupt switch from plain language to the bit about ‘uniform count’ is what made me laugh — it caps off the absurdity of the whole scene. Whether the phrase is meant to be natural or high-falutin or a combination of both is neither here nor there. This is fiction, you know.

    I’m aware that David Foster Wallace is not entirely popular in this neck of the woods, but he got a lot of mileage out of switching registers or talking about abstruse matters in oddly colloquial ways.

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