September 29, 2022
Yesterday I was mowing the part of our yard that we call the “way back”. It’s an untamed, unmanicured area adjacent to our wind belt trees. As I mowed, I noticed that a nice stand of alfalfa had showed up in the area. Alfalfa is a forage and hay crop that is grown in many parts of the world, and particularly in the Intermountain West in states like Montana, Idaho and Utah.
It’s not surprising that it had replanted itself in our yard. When we moved in, the entire property had been part of a large alfalfa field. Over the years, most of it has died out, replaced by gardens and shrubs and grasses.
Seeing it back again, I was transported to my childhood on a Utah dairy farm where my dad and grandfather grew several large fields of alfalfa. The alfalfa was mostly mowed and raked and baled into hay for winter feed for the cows.
Looking at the bright green sprigs of alfalfa I’d mowed, I remembered that no one ever called the plant alfalfa back in those days. It was always called “looseren.” My dad might casually remark that the “looseren” was looking good when he came in from the field. My grandfather often chewed on a sprig of “looseren” as he moved the irrigation water to a new section of the patch.
I was an adult before I realized that “looseren” was the same thing as alfalfa. Turns out “Looseren” wasn’t even the name of the crop at all. It was really called Lucerne, as in the city in Switzerland. Lucerne was an alternative name for alfalfa and was commonly used in Australia, England and other parts of Europe. “Looseren” was probably a local pronunciation for Lucerne.
According to Wikipedia, in the United States the crop has always been called alfalfa. However, I don’t think that it was only my family who called the plant “looseren.” I remember the neighbors talking about their “Looseren” as well. I suspect that the term was one of the regionalisms that used to be prevalent. Utah was well-known for its regional pronunciations. These pronunciations were sometimes referred to as “sagebrush twang.”
Our family prided itself on being educated. We didn’t say things like “Were you barn in a born?” like some Utahans did. We thought we only used standard English. Despite that, I guess we did have at least a bit of the Utah accent, at least when it came to alfalfa.
I haven’t heard anyone use Lucerne or “looseren” for many years. My dad and grandpa are long gone now, and I imagine even folks in Utah have given up most of their regional dialect. Now that the alfalfa has come back to my yard, a little bit of my family history has been reclaimed. I’ll think of it every time I mow.