Fresh Eyes: Land of Yep
Two of the most common lies told in Montana are: 1.) Yup, this here pick up’s paid for. 2.) Yup, I won this here belt buckle at a rodeo in high school. These ‘lies’ tell me a lot about living here; that to be valued I may need to learn to ride a horse and win a rodeo. Unfortunately the most I could realistically achieve to be an exemplary Montanan, would be to trade in my car for a pick up truck. But what really tips me off that I’m in Montana, is that signature ‘Yup’. If I were to have a contest of the words I hear most used in the months since I moved to Bozeman, the winner would, yes, you guessed it, be ‘Yup’ or ‘Yep’.
When I first moved here and heard ‘Yep’, or ‘Yup’ used in place of an entire conversation, it made me nervous, threatening my fast moving ‘city ways.’ But then, after a month or two, I decided to observe, instead of push the issue. I noticed a lot of stability in that ‘Yep’ or ‘Yup’. Within its terse delivery, there was the sense that there was really nothing to panic about, nothing to worry about. It’s all going to be just fine. Why wouldn’t it? “Yup.”
The first time that a version of ‘Yep’ was seen in print, was in 1689 England as a command to a horse, spelled ‘Yeap.’ It’s easy to trace that ‘Yeap’, ‘Yep, or Giddy-yup,’ down to the old Hollywood Westerns when cowboys smack their horses’ butts and take off into the sunset. The word ‘Yep’ was first seen in print in 1891 in Harper Monthly in a fictional story, “He gently and peacefully murmured, ‘Yep.’” “Yup” was first seen in 1906 in Centennial Magazine in another piece of fiction: “Will you go—if I swear?’ ‘Yup,’ said Pinchas, airing his American.”
So we can assume that ‘Yep’ or ‘Yup’ truly are an indigenous piece of American lingo, and that the Western lifestyle involves many four legged animals, namely horse and cattle, all of who respond well to ‘Yep’ or ‘Giddy-yup’. I would like to formally thank the horses and cattle who are helping to preserve our linguistic heritage.
As I am writing this article I am getting confused – is it a ‘Yep’ or a ‘Yup’? Sometimes it sounds like one, and other times like both versions. I have noticed that ‘Yup’ is more guttural, as if to say “Oh, I am in definite agreement with you.” ‘Yep’ seems more independent, like “Yes, I agree but I may have some more to add.” ‘Yup’ seems like it’s used for a deeper conversation, and ‘Yep’ seems more useful for day to day activities.
My search for the ‘Yup’ or ‘Yep’ meaning brings me to a story about the ‘dark side’ of living here in Bozeman. Last week, I was driving down a two-lane road just beyond town, before dark. I was happily thinking or singing with a song on the radio or something. Flirting with the 55 mph speed limit, it would have been a little wild of me to go much faster since there were a lot of deer enjoying their a la carte dinners at dusk next to the road. It hadn’t snowed for a week, it was warm, all the ice had melted. So why was there suddenly a freakin’ snowbank in the middle of my side of the road?! A car was passing as I approached, no swerving possible, too late to stop. And then…
I gripped the wheel with both hands. In fact, I couldn’t let go, for some reason I was terrified to let go. I stopped breathing, I think for a long time. I know this because I felt my heart start to beat really fast, desperately attempting to keep up with the reality that I didn’t want to accept. I looked at the controls on my dashboard: no oil loss, no tires punctured, the car was still moving, everything was okay.
Well, okay enough to get to the Madison River Brewing Company’s Tap Room, across from the Bozeman Airport in the iPark, to meet my husband and a rancher friend of ours. I got my favorite beer, a Salmon Fly Honey Rye. I told them what had just happened. My husband shook his head and chuckled. Our rancher friend just said “Yup.”
Yup??? YUP?! What the hell does that mean? I thought. What about OMG! I just ran over something that weighs 200-400 pounds, the deer who I see running around on the fields beside the road. It’s furry and sweet and I RAN OVER IT. The only solace is that maybe I put it out of its misery. Even more horrifying, it looked like I had murdered and butchered some version of mammal on the back of my car. “Yup, I’ve done that plenty of times. It’s hard to get that off your car.” What somebody told me at the bar that night too, is that in November of last year it became legal to salvage road kill, with a Montana permit, of course.
Needless to say, Yup! I was mortified. Thank God for beer.
The first week I lived here is when I first noticed the ubiquitous ‘Yep’ or ‘Yup’. I was talking to another rancher neighbor about something I thought was funny. He just nodded and kept saying ‘Yup,’ wearing a big smile on his face. Soon after, I was talking to another rancher trying to explain why I needed his help. He nodded and mostly just said, ‘Yep’.
It kept happening. I wondered, am I really that much of a newbie that nobody will engage me in a full conversation? Nobody here seems dumb, in fact very far from it. I got the definite and hopeful feeling that there was a kernel, a large one actually, of compassion in this ‘Yep’ or ‘Yup’. There was shyness, and caution, a careful assessment like, who is this lady? Fair enough, that’s just a smart way to approach life. I got used to it and my husband and I began to say it to each other fondly, repeating it like a mantra as we went through our day. It reminds me of the Buddhist ‘Om.’ A word packed with an entire ancient culture of philosophy and rituals. It is a word you only have to say once to get the whole point across.
I can see how in Montana’s rural environment about a hundred plus years ago, fast, concise language was probably a necessity as the wind blew the snow that was piling up rapidly outside your cabin door, or the cows broke through the fence again, or the horses were freaking out because a snake or a mountain lion was nearby, or the neighbor’s house is on fire and “Yep, we better ride over there with some water quick.” Some of these things still happen and that’s why we still use the word. “Yup!’ gotta love that vintage Western lingo.”
What has struck me profoundly however, is the way Montanans keep in tune with nature, and how ‘Yep’ or ‘Yup’ are a reflection of that. Life – and death – are treated as equally acceptable realities here. Death is going to happen, but life is just around the corner. A bull has a torn ligament and can’t stand up on his back legs to do his job. He will probably be gone soon, but a new calf is born and he’s healthy and running around in the fields with his mother. I notice that people here apply it to their personal lives. Not to make a joke, but I hear wives talk about their husbands passing as easily as that bull. It’s the accepted order of life.
Sometimes we don’t like the fact, and sometimes it’s the best thing that could ever happen to us. But Montanans seem to live life in a way that is comfortably close to the inevitable cycle of nature.
To me, it cuts through all the B.S. It feels more compassionate and more like I am going with the flow, instead of fighting upstream. It was one of the reasons that I wanted to leave behind the neuroses of the urban ‘What if’s?!’ Now I live in a place where everything begins with a ‘Yep’ or a ‘Yup’. Less needs to be said, making room to see more and feel more. “Yep, I’m staying.”
Lara Wisniewski is a happy new resident of the Bozeman area. She is currently writing her first novel and is an international visual arts writer and curator.