12

What does this sentence from "Double Barrelled Detective Story" by Mark Twain mean?

"If I was running this shop I'd make him say something, some time or other, or vamos the ranch."

In Spanish, 'Vamos' means 'let's go' as far as I know. However I couldn't quite get what Twain was trying to say.

2 Answers 2

12

While vamos in Spanish does mean "let's go!", it took on another meaning in America, and later on a different spelling: vamoose

intransitive verb

: to depart quickly

In the 1820s and '30s, the American Southwest was rough-and-tumble territory—the true Wild West. English-speaking cowboys, Texas Rangers, and gold prospectors regularly rubbed elbows with Spanish-speaking vaqueros in the local saloons, and a certain amount of linguistic intermixing was inevitable. One Spanish term that caught on with English speakers was vamos, which means "let's go." Cowpokes and dudes alike adopted the word, at first using a range of spellings and pronunciations that varied considerably in their proximity to the original Spanish form. But when the dust settled, the version most American English speakers were using was vamoose.

Given the time, Mark Twain probably still used the original spelling, but with the new meaning, so what he wrote means:

"If I was running this shop I'd make him say something, some time or other, or [exit] the ranch."

I don't know the context, but presumably the character being talked about doesn't talk much and the speaker doesn't like that and wants to make him leave the ranch.

3

I found this question by chance, and as muru wasn't able to look up the context I thought I'd provide some details he missed.

'Vamos' I shan't explain as muru did a very good job of that.

'Shop' could informally refer to any business - in this case the saloon where the characters are drinking.

'Ranch' in this case just refers to a generic place - the character might similarly have said 'blow this joint' or 'get out of Dodge' (with different implications, of course).

The character speaking is suggesting the the barkeeper (the proprietor of the 'shop') should at 'some time or other' present the subject of the conversation with an ultimatum: to be more talkative or to leave the premises ('vamos the ranch').

I also found the phrase used in a Californian newspaper in 1852, so it was a real idiom, rather than being made up by Twain for effect: https://cdnc.ucr.edu/?a=d&d=DAC18520612.2.22.21&

Although it wasn't mentioned in the question, the speaker is the local Wells-Fargo representative, and I would interpret the context as suggesting he is being a hypocrite, as bankers are not traditionally considered very socially conscious, or good company to keep. He is also affecting Wild West slang which fits with the character of a banker drinking in a saloon.

For reference, the full text can be found on Project Gutenberg: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/3180

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.