Growing up, the type of slang words I heard and learned on my reservation were “cheap,” “ussssh,” “eeeee,” “anyways,” and “eee-yah.”
But when I came to the Osage Nation, the slang I heard was like a foreign language.
I heard words like “Buh,” “Keen,” “Rugged,” “Esha,” and “The O.”
I remember the first time I heard my co-worker Chay Toehay use the word “Buh.” She was telling a story and she ended it dramtically by saying “Buh!” I thought to myself “what in the world is ‘Buh?’ Do these Osages (and Kiowa) not know how to speak proper English?”
I was kind of scared to ask so I just carried on with my work. I did ask my co-worker and fellow O’odham Benny Polacca about it later and he told me it meant like “Oh my God,” or “Huh?” I still find the word strange when I hear people say it. It is going to take some time to get used to.
Then I began hearing my boss Shannon Shaw say, “I’m going to the O.” At first I thought nothing of it but then I heard Rebekah HorseChief (Osage language instructor) say the same thing.
I kept trying to put the pieces together and I literally pondered it for two weeks.
Finally one day during Lunch with Language, Rebekah was going over words in Osage. She said the word for bathroom in Osage, which is pronounced O.Zhe.Tsi, and it all made sense. “The O” is short for the Osage word for bathroom. Ta-da!
I have to laugh at myself because I spent so much time trying to figure it out. I felt like a detective trying to solve a crime. I even told my boyfriend about it. I gave him the scenario I was in and how “The O” was used in a sentence. Then I asked him, “So what do you think ‘The O’ is?”
Definitely won’t do that again. So when I started to hear the word “Keen” thrown around I immediately asked what it meant. And I’ll never forget the text message I got a few days later from Shannon.
I had just left the 2012 Oklahoma Native American Youth Language Fair in Norman and I had to text her about how great the experience was. She responded, “I think the language fair is just keen.” I laughed and thought to myself, “You know what, it is keen.”