The meaning of ‘omberrrs’

Question: Take a typical Las Vegas cholo with his pants sagging to the point where one inch lower might get him arrested, and with one of the pants cuffs being swallowed by his shoe a bit more than the other. What is the logical answer to his situation?

“Not even.”

Wrong! The words might be correct on paper, but the articulation of these words proves simply that one can’t always give an accurate rendering of certain words merely by looking at the orthographics.

Let me explain:

No self-respecting cholo would ever say, “not even.” Rather, that expression requires a warmup, a running start. Therefore, “not even” ought really be spelled, “hhnnott eee-vun.” Now doesn’t that give a more faithful rendering of this bit of Las Vegas Speak?

In this town, we simply have our own way of speaking. A delightful article by Albuquerque Journal writer Leslie Linthicum concerns “(Expletive) Burqueños Say.” It’s based on a humorous collection of expressions people in Albuquerque use. But the title barely covers it. The jargon is not exclusive to Albuquerque; in fact, some might say it began in the Meadow City.

But one further explanation: The highly popular website from which Linthicum’s article is derived, does contain an expletive, the s-word, but this being a family newspaper, we need to euphemize.

The article appeared on the Optic’s front page Monday. It’s based on a video that shows a young woman, Lauren Poole offering someone a soft drink. “Want a Coke?” she asks several times, but each time she holds a different soft drink, first an orange soda, then lemon-lime, then Pepsi.

But isn’t that what we’ve done for years? “Let’s go have a Coke” has never meant a Coca-Cola product, but any kind of sweet beverage. In our house, we’ve offered our guests Cokes many times, although we haven’t had any real Cokes in our fridge since the last millennium. Our guests know what we mean.

Another thing we do in this town is to make sure every business gets a possessive. “I went to Safeway’s,” we’d hear people say, when they really just went to Safeway. And people dine at El Rialto’s. I heard a family member telling about having shopped at Piggly Wiggly’s, when there was such a store, not too long ago. It was possibly that grocery chain that drove out Safeway and even Furr’s. And as Piggly Wiggly said to Furr’s, “There is no safe way.”

So why the craze for adding an apostrophe and an “s”? I imagine it’s because so many mom-and-pop stores in my youth were named after the owner. We had Peña’s Grocery across the street from my Railroad Avenue home; James Garbarino ran Garbarino’s Store on Grand, and Orlando Marquez owned and operated Marquez’s Grocery nearby. And we often went to a store I knew only as Poncho’s.

Owners of small stores like to include their first or last name on the marquee. And that tradition continues. Notice how many businesses still carry the owners’ names, such as McDonald’s, Dick’s, Nelson’s, Maryann’s, Talita’s and Charlie’s. And Walgreens confuses us locals, as there’s no apostrophe in that name.

The idea of adding an “s” to businesses carries on to random words as well. There is absolutely no possessive even implied in the headline to Linthicum’s article that reads, “I haven’t laughed so hard in forevers.”

“Forevers”? That usage just has to be an outgrowth of the possessive form of businesses. And yet, one of my sisters-in-law bids me adieu with “laters.”

The highly popular YouTube blog is the product of an Albuquerque group called Blackout Theatre. For sure, we get a taste of “omberrrs (some spell it umberzz),” a sound I first heard from my middle son Diego, after his first day at school in Anton Chico.

Just the way Diego said the word made me wonder what it could possibly portend. Newly coined expressions often have an accusatory tone, as in “shame on you (or oh, nooo),” sometimes accompanied by a gesture in which we run one index finger across the other while pointing at the object of our scorn.

Or is “omberrrs” another kind of warning, like when we holler “truchas,” to give notice that there might be cops around. Is “truchas,” which means “trout,” a Spanish equivalent of “cheese it — the cops”?

Linthicum’s article gives us lots of “bueno, bye,” “melp you?” an economical way of saying, “May I help you?” without being too free with extra syllables. And you’ll find questions like, “Are we going or no?” “Are you all mad or no?” and “Let’s get down” from the car. But as any agrarian knows, one doesn’t get down from a car or a horse. One gets down from a swan or a goose.

• • •

An expression we hear a lot in this area has to do with “closing the light.” The one saying that clearly is referring to turning off the headlights or the overhead light. When a couple of us heard that term, during a camping trip, the other person said, “When people say ‘close the light’ they’re really saying ‘close the circuit.’”

Not anyone’s idea of an electrician, I questioned that interpretation. A closed circuit means a continuous flow of current; an open circuit means there’s no flow. And paradoxically, if you leave the water in your tub running, you’ve created a closed circuit, even if the tap is open.

I believe the meaning of those who say “close the light” comes closer to covering something, as one would a fire. Do you buy this interpretation or no? The French say “couvre le feu,” from which we get curfew).

Remember last week’s discourse on how our Interstate ramps have no working lights? They’ve been “closed” for a long time. Many of us would like for there to be a closed circuit there.

I’ll try to provide a more cogent explanation of open and closed circuits, laters, by checking out books from Donnelly’s or Carnegie’s.

3 thoughts on “The meaning of ‘omberrrs’

  1. Ben Moffett

    Love this, especially where you get “down” from. Your Coke comment reminds me some similar uses of trade names in the 1940s. In school, crayons were Crayolas and a refrigerator was a Frigidaire.
    And after reading your column and seeing the video, I haven’t figured out what “omberrs” means.

  2. Art Trujillo

    I thought of contacting you before I wrote the “omberrrs” piece. Any man who knows about a “garrapata patch” ought to be familiar with “omberrrs.” So you can’t help on this one, Ben? I’ve asked people in their 30s and 40s who just give me a blank stare when I mention the word. Please ask around and be back in touch, Ben. As always, I enjoy and appreciate all your feedback.

  3. Elizabeth Dillow

    I was reading something posted by a friend from when I lived in ABQ and somehow ended up here because of the use of “omberr(s).” I about fell out of my chair—it’s a long story, but 20 some years ago when I lived in Montana, I heard this used for the first time (as in “ohhhhhh, you’re in trouuuuuuuble” kind of tone) and had a really interesting discussion with some fellow teachers about its usage. Not all Montanans know it, and apparently some near Frenchtown say a variation: “au ver.” But since that time, I have adopted it and taught my daughters to say it as well. I’ve always wanted to know where it comes from but have never met anyone outside of Montana who uses it, until today. (!!)

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