“Spit the Bit” & “Faunching at the Bit”

The informant is my father, John Michael Rayburn, born in 1957 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He spent his childhood in Dell City, a suburb to Oklahoma City, before graduating from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in business. His parents are both from Arkansas.

In this piece, my dad discusses two folk metaphors: “spit the bit” and “faunching at the bit”, which is used to describe eagerness in people. I conducted this interview during dinner alone with him.

Dad: One of the things I remembered was this… I guess you could call it a phrase. You can use those right?

Me: Yeah.

Dad: Okay… it was when we were riding horses, you would put a bridle on the horse’s head, and a bridle was this… headgear harness type thing that was used to control the horse. It had a bunch of buckled straps, and it would connect a bit and the reins. It helped control the horse, ‘cause you could just pull on the reins and that would pull on the bit, which was this metal rod that goes in the horse’s mouth, and so when you pulled on the reins it pulled on the bit and you could pull it back to slow the horse.

Me: Okay.

Dad: There were two terms we’d use to describe people that relates to that bit. One of them was where we’d say “faunching at the bit”. Faunching means something along the lines of display angry excitement.

Me: Did you look that up?

Dad: No, that was all me. When the horse would be acting excited or wanting to run, we’d say that horse is “faunching at the bit”. My parents, whenever me or Cathy [sister] would be acting rowdy about going to the grocery store or whatever, you would hear my dad yelling at my mom asking “what are those kids doin’,” and she’d yell back “They’re faunching at the bit,” because we were so excited to get going.

Me: That’s very Arkansas of you.

Dad: I know. I know.

Me: What’s the other phrase?

Dad: It’s about the same thing. There was another term called “spit the bit,” and it’d be when the horse would somehow work the bit out of its mouth, which meant the rider had no control. So the horse would just be bookin’ it, and eventually the rider would just fall off and crash into the dirt. What made me remember this was at work the other day we were discussing a company that stopped doing business with our company, and I, with my Arkansas vocabulary, described the customer as having “spit the bit”.

This is a very “Mike Rayburn” thing to say. My dad, being from a small town in Oklahoma and having grown up with two parents from Arkansas, always says these little phrases. I think they’re good little metaphors in a way, because comparing rambunctious kids or large companies as horses is very descriptive of their behavior. I think he also likes saying these metaphors because he’s proud of where he comes from. It’s somewhat routine to be a little embarrassed when you say you’re from a small town in Oklahoma: there’s a kind of stigma that comes when you admit that. I think my dad likes that though. He must think it’s charming in a way. That’s how a lot of his family is. They like that rural part of their life, and like using metaphors and phrases that remind themselves and others of where they’ve come from.