The English language has well over a million “official” words in its dictionary and probably another twenty thousand or more unofficial, idiomatic, and/or regional words that are used by specific groups and have meanings yet to reach any dictionary.

There is nothing you cannot say in English using real words. You can make yourself heard while speaking a language other people will recognize. Not only will this not diminish your communication, it will enhance it while lending you credibility with other literate people.

If there is nothing you can say without insulting and hurting people? Without hate speech and slurs? Best say nothing.


Hate speech and bullying isn’t freedom. It’s hate speech and bullying. It is always ungrammatical and makes my brain itch. Everyone recognizes the invisible lines of what’s acceptable speech and behavior and what isn’t. I think we know this much by the time we get to first grade. The people who regularly cross these lines know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it. It isn’t lack of education. It’s lack of empathy for others and that, sadly, is a disease for which there is no known cure.

The speech of the bludgeon or truncheon is no accident. Those who speak thuggish do it with full intent. It’s wrong. You can argue this point until the cows come home. It will remain wrong.

One of the things I’ve always admired about the British upper class — maybe the only thing I admire about the British upper class — is their ability to be perfectly polite while verbally eviscerating their opponents. It’s an art form. They at least understand that a rapier — a sharp, precise tool — is a better weapon than a bludgeon. And usually leaves less of a mess.

If you have to join the fray, put away the bludgeon. Give the rapier a try.



While I was growing up, my world was entirely serious music. I was a piano student and my spare time was consumed by practicing. It wasn’t until I recognized I’d never be good enough to be a professional musician that I started to explore the world of “folk” and “pop.” Tom Paxton, The Chad Mitchell Trio, even the Kingston Trio … followed by a crowd of folk singers from great to not-so-great became the go to people in my musical world. They seemed like personal friends. Joni Mitchell. Judy Collins. Carol King. Joan Baez. Pete Seeger. Linda Ronstadt. Emmy Lou Harris. Maria Muldaur. There were so many, back then.

Now that Judy Collins is 75 and I’m 70, I relate to this song so very well.

The Beatles were the first group in the pop arena I truly loved. After “A Hard Days Night” (I loved the movie and the score), and “Rubber Soul,” I was a fan for life — which means I still am buying remastered Beatles CDs.


Eventually, I added many other singers and groups, and other categories of music.

John Prine was a latecomer to my “playlist,” but he remains a favorite. Better known as the writer than the singer, here are a couple of songs that I particularly love and always cheer me when I’m blue. Not everyone has heard of John Prine, but he wrote many songs. He sang them himself on various recordings, most of which I once owned on vinyl. Lo and behold, there’s a CD collection of his work available … just $10, double CD. I ordered it. Of course. No, I don’t like to trust my stuff to the cloud. Especially when I’m traveling.

Sometimes, nothing says “life” like music. Maybe more often than sometimes. Maybe always.

And finally, I’d like to add an old song that’s a current favorite. It’s our “road song” and we tend to listen to it over and over again while driving down (or up) the highway. “Pancho and Lefty” is a story song. If you’ve heard it (and many people have sung it over the years, you probably think that maybe it has something to do with Pancho Villa. It ought to. Actually, Townes Van Zandt says it has nothing to do with him unless it fell out of his unconscious directly into the song. Just a song about two loser outlaws in Mexico.

“Pancho and Lefty” written by Townes Van Zandt was recorded by Emmylou Harris for her 1977 album, Luxury Liner, released on Warner Bros and available on CD on Rhino.

Every time I hear it, I see it in my mind’s eye too. The dusty desert where Pancho breathed his last. This is the Emmy Lou Harris version. My favorite, though there are, as I said, many others. Hers may be the most difficult one from which to catch all the lyrics, so I’ll include them for you. You won’t need to, as I did, keep listening and replaying the lines until finally, you get it … only to discover the words are actually printed on the CD’s paper insert.


Living on the road my friend,
Was gonna keep you free and clean
Now you wear your skin like iron,
And your breath’s as hard as kerosene.
You weren’t your mama’s only boy,
But her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye,
Sank into your dreams.

Pancho was a bandit, boys
His horse was fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel.
Pancho met his match you know
On the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dying words,
Ah but that’s the way it goes.

And all the Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him hang around
Out of kindness, I suppose.1

Lefty, he can’t sing the blues
All night long like he used to.
The dust that Pancho bit down south
Ended up in Lefty’s mouth
The day they laid poor Pancho low,
Lefty split for Ohio
Where he got the bread to go,
There ain’t nobody knows.1

And all the Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away

Now the poets tell how Pancho fell,
And Lefty’s living in cheap hotel
The desert’s quiet, and Cleveland’s cold,
And so the story ends we’re told
Pancho needs your prayers it’s true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do,
And now he’s growing old.1

And a few grey Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness, I suppose.1

A few grey Federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness, I suppose.

Read more: Townes Van Zandt – Pancho & Lefty Lyrics | MetroLyrics