One of my favorite blogs is Mimi Smartypants, which gave me several LOLs today. One LOL was for the item speculating about getting high from room-freshener propellant, and another was from following the link for Garfield Minus Garfield... but of course the best was attributable to her opening riff on prairie chickens. For those of you who don't know me well (and I'm not sure anyone reading this would fall into that category), the term "prairie chicken" has special meaning. I might as well write it down for the sake of posterity if nothing else.
It all started in a restaurant in Maine called the Chuck Wagon. Yes, it was deep in Maine but had a western theme with a neon sign shaped like a chuck wagon and a menu where onion rings were called "golden lariats," burgers were called things like "blockbusters" and "saddle tramps"... you get the idea. Anyway, a bunch of us smartypants college kids were in there one day, getting ready to order from the hefty waitress sporting the Chuck Wagon uniform highlighted by a brown checked apron. I scanned the menu and decided on the chicken fillet sandwich. When the waitress came around to me, I said (not intending to be funny), "I'll have... a prairie chicken." K., one of my friends, immediately cracked up in my general direction for no apparent reason. So the waitress fired back at him saying, "You hush up! She can have anything she wants!" I asked K. later why he was laughing, and he said, "You looked so embarrassed ordering something as silly-sounding as a prairie chicken."
Ever afterwards, we all used the term "prairie chicken" (later shorted to simply "prairie") to refer to people who did something to embarrass themselves, or simply as an exclamation of embarrassment or chagrin, as in "I forgot there was a test today -- prairie!" or "Oh prairie, I spilled beer all over myself." I used the word all the time, so now people I knew in grad school on the other side of the country use it (and still do, at least in their e-mails to me), various other people I've worked and played with over the intervening years, my husband... and some day soon, my children. Thus does our dynamic mother tongue evolve.