Have you seen that lass, Sue?
That lass who lassoed you?
Lassoed you with her leather and her lace?
The lace that laced her bodice,
And, just ’cuz she was modest,
That lace that hid her pretty little face?
Oh, I’ve seen her, alright –
I saw her just last night,
After a hard day riding on the range.
I was lassoing and roping,
And came back really hoping,
But I found that she was acting kinda strange.
Oh, I hugged her and I kissed her,
And told her that I missed her,
And said I’d go and lasso up some chow,
But she said she’d be alright,
And then she said good night,
And that she felt real tired anyhow.
I said it was a loss,
And I was feeling kind of cross,
But then I heard a noise under the bed.
I looked and saw a man,
And said, “Come out if you can,”
And then I shot that rascal in the head.
So now I’m on the run –
Shoulda used my rope, not gun,
But hindsight, as they say, is no damn use.
The sheriff’s on my tail,
So I’d better hit the trail
’Fore lace and lasso lead me to a noose.
Ah, yep, the old west, where men rode hard with their lassos, and the lasses who lived in the towns snared them with their lace and their laces. But lasso and lace will always lead you to a noose. And that’s not some moralism: it’s etymology.
I won’t keep you in suspense. Lasso comes from Spanish lazo, which, like the word lace, comes from Old French laz, which comes (probably by way of an intermediate lacium) from Latin laqueum, which means “noose”. The connection? Well, it should be obvious enough for lasso, which is a kind of noose you throw. For lace, the kind that’s on your shoes came first, with its loops; the decorative kind with many tiny loops came after. So that rough-and-rugged cowboy tool and that soft feminine accoutrement both use words derived from a word for a rope loop – of the kind that can keep you in a most unpleasant suspense.
The shift from a “lass-oh” pronunciation to a “lass-oo” pronunciation came in the US. The British kept saying it the older way until well into the 20th century. Why did the American cowboys change it to “lass-oo“? Well, I don’t rightly know, but I am entertained by the (probably not accurate) notion that that way of saying it is more like the act of using one: the “lass” like the hissing sound it makes swinging near your ear, and the “oo” like throwing it – we know that that “oo” sound has a certain ballistic flavour, and putting the stress on it matches its being the main muscle thrust and the point of the action. Certainly the American way lends itself better to being shouted.
Also, the British way of saying it makes it identical to the last name of the Renaissance composer Orlando di Lasso. And since, as we know, cowboys like to talk about Renassiance madrigals, there was a real risk of confusion.
Well, come on. We know they like poetry, anyway. Is it really such a stretch?