Of Cougars, Dipshits, and Teddy Roosevelt

Update: Dakota Goodhouse has written an excellent response to this article. go look at it here.

When was the last time someone called you a dipshit? I swear, I hadn’t heard that word in 20 years, or maybe 30 or 40, until this week, when somebody called me that in a comment at the bottom of my blog.

I remember it as a word we used back in the 1950s or 60s, to describe someone we didn’t like, most often a bully who would pound us bloody if he heard us calling him that. It was generally a word reserved for someone we really, really disliked.

I can remember my sister Laurelle shortening it to “dip” back in junior high or early high school, talking about some creepy guy, as in “He’s a real dip,” because she’d never have used the word shit in a sentence. That was then. She’s matured some since.

My favorite dictionary, the Urban Dictionary, defines it as “A despised person; a moron; an ineffectual person; one with a habit of being wrong, loudly and often.” Okay.

So then why did this person who used the name “Waynean” in a comment on my blog say “Hey, dipshit, couldn’t read the article but scanned quickly. I was too disgusted by your misspelling of Badlands throughout. It’s one word. There is no alternate spelling/wording. You are a disgrace to North Dakota.”

Ouch. A disgrace to North Dakota. I don’t think I’ve ever been called that, either. That’s worse than dipshit.

I don’t know who this person might be, but they use the handle “kasotacougar” in their e-mail address. As in kasotacougar@ . . .  Now I know Kasota is a town in Minnesota, and as I puzzled over that, I recalled hearing that there is a new definition for “cougar” these days, one that is not a mountain lion in the North Dakota Bad Lands. Back to the Urban Dictionary:

“Cougar: An older woman who frequents clubs in order to score with a much younger man. The cougar can be anyone from an overly surgically altered wind tunnel victim, to an absolute sad and bloated old horn-meister, to a real hottie or milf. Cougars are gaining in popularity — particularly the true hotties — as young men find not only a sexual high, but many times a chick with her shit together. “That cougar I met last night, showed me shit I didn’t know existed, I’m goin’ back for more.” (milf, by the way, the Urban Dictionary says, means “Mother I’d Like (to), well, you know)

Well. I guess you’re never too old to learn something new.

So I’m figuring Waynean is a fake name for a woman on the make from Minnesota who somehow found my blog and didn’t like the way I spelled Bad Lands. WTF? I hope she knows I’m almost 70 years old.

Which brings me back to matters at hand. Let’s talk about Bad Lands. Badlands. badlands. How should it be spelled?

Anyone who’s been reading my blog for the last eight years knows that I prefer Bad Lands. Two words. Capitalized. And that’s what the hottie from Minnesota took exception to. So let’s talk about it. Let’s go back to 1986.

In 1986 I was the North Dakota Tourism Director and my friend Tracy Potter carried the title Deputy Tourism Director, but was actually much more than that (I was a figurehead and the public face of an “industry” trying to establish its credibility as an important piece of the state’s economy. Tracy was the brains behind the face.). One day Tracy came into my office and dropped a proof of a brochure on my desk and said “It should be Bad Lands. Two words. Both capitalized.”

Until that moment I had given little thought to that. In my world, I guess, I had always just thought of it as one word. Badlands. I think that was because the official government spelling of it was badlands. Sometimes, capitalized, sometimes not. As in Badlands National Park, the one in the other Dakota. If you go to the website for Badlands National Park, you’ll find this:

Why is it called the Badlands?

The Lakota people were the first to call this place “mako sica” or “land bad.” Extreme temperatures, lack of water, and the exposed rugged terrain led to this name. In the early 1900’s, French-Canadian fur trappers called it “les mauvais terres pour traverse,” or “bad lands to travel through.”

“Today, the term badlands has a more geologic definition. Badlands form when soft sedimentary rock is extensively eroded in a dry climate. The park’s typical scenery of sharp spires, gullies, and ridges is a premier example of badlands topography.”

And that made it official. Thus spake the United States Government.

But do you see what they did there? As they told us what the Indians and the trappers called it, the word “bad” is an adjective. “Land bad.”Bad lands to travel through.” That’s what those who were here before the United States Government was here said. These are some baaad lands, look out for them. Hard to get through them. They were bad. BAD!

And then they just slipped in badlands in the next sentence as one word, a noun. Boo. Hiss. There’s no justification for that. A “geologic definition.” Yes, badlands happen when Mother Nature does her job. Badlands are the new topography, after millions of years of Mother Nature being at work. Okay, South Dakota, you can have Badlands National Park. But Tracy was right. Up here we got some Bad Lands. Don’t believe me? Just try to travel through them.

Looking back, now, I don’t recall if we ever established a firm policy in our travel literature. We used two words when we thought we could get away with it. The National Park Service out in Medora, following the lead from its sister park down south, used one word. So did the folks at Gold Seal, who ran the Medora attractions. We dabbled from time to time with two words, but newspapers and school books and CVB’s and the government using one word outnumbered us.

I think we were at least successful in getting everyone to capitalize it, but for the most part it remained Badlands. One word. Still used by the North Dakota Tourism Division today. (I went to the Tourism Division’s website and entered “Bad Lands” under their search button. The website responded “No results available.” But when I typed “badlands” I got 28 results, everything from the Bully Pulpit Golf Course to the Lone Butte Guest Ranch. Case closed.

Still . . .

There are some things worth fighting for. My friend Ed Schafer and I have been jousting about it for years. He says Badlands. I say tomahto. Problem is, there’s no one with more credibility to declare what the official word for North Dakota’s top tourist destination shall be called. Ed was, after all, Governor, the Tourism Director’s boss. He was also Secretary of Agriculture, the boss of, among other agencies, the U.S. Forest Service, which manages our state’s million acres of grasslands, most of it in the, er, Bad Lands, or Badlands. And he’s the scion of the Schafer Family which gave us Medora, the shining star of the, er, Bad Lands, or Badlands. And Chairman of the Board of the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation. Big timber. I concede to his decree, with a smile. One word. Officially, Badlands.

I wanted to use A.T. Packard’s 1884 newspaper as an example of why we should use Bad Lands, but he didn’t even know how to spell Cowboy.

Still . . .

I’m not going to quit using two words. Here’s why:

I’ve got Teddy Roosevelt on my side.

Our 26th President, who we North Dakotans claim as one of our own, who lived and ranched here, and who said he would never have been president were it not for his time here, ALWAYS used two words. Bad Lands.

Roosevelt was our writingest president. And probably the subject of more books than any other president. Our library here at 920 Arthur Drive gives him his own shelf. So do many libraries in the state, in the country, in the world.


“My own ranches, the Elkhorn and the Chimney Butte, lie along the eastern border of the cattle country, where the Little Missouri flows through the heart of the Bad Lands.” – Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, by Theodore Roosevelt.

“Occasionally it is imperatively necessary to cross some of the worst parts of the Bad Lands with a wagon, and such a trip is exhausting and laborious beyond belief.” – Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail by Theodore Roosevelt.

“When in the Bad Lands of the Western Dakotas the late September breezes grow cold . . .” Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter by Theodore Roosevelt.

I’ve just pulled three sentences from three of his books, but be assured he made a conscious decision, throughout every one of his books, and in his personal correspondence, to use Bad Lands—two words, capitalized.

And his biographers said “If it’s good enough for TR, it’s good enough for me.”

“The train stirred, gained momentum, and was gone, having accomplished its immediate mission, which was to deposit a New York ‘dude’ politician and would-be hunter named Theodore Roosevelt, in the Bad Lands of Dakota.” – Roosevelt in the Bad Lands by Hermann Hagedorn.

“Theodore’s interest in the Dakota Bad Lands probably began with Commander Henry Honeychurch Gorringe, the former naval officer . . .” Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough.

“On November 16, a spell of ‘white weather’ settled down over the Bad Lands, as Roosevelt left his southern ranch and headed north to the Elkhorn.” The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris (winner of the Pulitzer Prize).

Here’s a 1925 poster advertising a trip to the Bad Lands, before the government got all snooty and decided it should be Badlands. Poster courtesy of the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.

I don’t know, to this day, how we spurned the greatest resident, ever, of the North Dakota Bad Lands, Theodore Roosevelt, and gave the greatest and best part of our state a geologic name, badlands, instead of the dramatic name it deserves: Bad Lands.

And I’m sticking with it. Ed and I will continue to disagree and laugh about it, but I’m just a blogger who’s a bit too big for his britches, and I know that no one really cares if I choose to go my own way. Including Ed. Well, except for that cougar over in Minnesota who thinks I’m a dipshit.

By the way: Is dipshit one word, or two?

10 thoughts on “Of Cougars, Dipshits, and Teddy Roosevelt

  1. Dipshit is one word, uncapitalized, except as in this case, at the start of a sentence. We have the Bad Lands in North Dakota, specifically to distinguish our wonderful place from the lunar landscape of Lower Dakota, and less historic badlands terrain in Saskatchewan and elsewhere.


  2. It has become a proper noun through usage. It describes a very specific place and general location. It is like the words German, French, etc. Google it would be a newer use but in this case through usage we have created a new verb.


  3. If you read the fine print in the Roosevelt National Park Association announcement they also write “cow boy.” Who writes that as two words? It’s Badlands; I read it in the news paper.


  4. After we solve the badlands spelling we can move on to other ND works that need clarification. Sakakawea or Sacagawea?


  5. A radio talk show host had some words with a caller:

    What’s a “hypocritical, sanctimonious, duplicitous, pusillanimous pip-squeak”?

    Is pip-squeak 1 word or 2? That’s the question!


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