Saturday, November 21, 2009

Cracker Talk

Growing up in the South, I was exposed to the wonderfully lurid dialect of a world that I’m afraid has disappeared without much more trace than my inability to say the word “oyster” (as dear Diane von Austinberg points out, I inevitably pronounce it OISH-chuh.)

My grandmother was able to announce “that boy is just not right” and have her inflection specify anything from mental disability to criminal tendencies (plenty of that in my family. Or “Fambly,” as we would say) to homosexuality (that would be me.) When my other granny would glare at you and growl “I am fixin’ to straighten you out boyuh,” it was time to run. I was a grown man before I realized the words “ball” and “boil” were not homonyms. And it has only been R Man’s patient tutelage that has taught me to move the accent from the first syllable in “insurance” to the second one. Who knew?

But I have now lived in California so long that my accent has been scrubbed clean. At least, it seems like it to me, so I’m always surprised when people I meet claim to be able to hear it in my voice. I assure them that this is nothing since I originally sounded like a road show version of Tennessee Williams’ greatest hits. Still, sometimes I hear “dollar” roll out of my mouth in the form of “dollah.” And I have been met with blank stares when I use the simile “Running around like a monkey with its ass on fire” to describe how busy I am. At least I pronounce it as “fire” and not “fahr” so that has to count as progress, right?


  1. I'm slightly the opposite.
    I grew up in California and now live in the south. When people say to me, "Y'all aren't around heah, are ya?" I inevitably say, "Yes, I grew up right here."
    They look befuddled and say, "Ya doan sound lack it."
    I say, "Well, I went to high school."

    Cue the crickets.

  2. Oh honey and that’s not honeh let me tell you that I am all the time “fixin”. I’m fixin to go to the stow or I’m fixin to git ready or I’m gone fix that bitch.

    “Fix a bitch” is a differn’t stow’ry.

    I grow’d up in Miss’ippi where my first grade was the first year of desegregation so they threw open a bunch of make shift schools inside of Baptist churches and imported teachers to rid the chillren of they accents.

    It worked for the most part. Just don’t contract every word and enunciate clearly. However, living so close to L.A. (lower Alabama) has made me a backslider.

    Even my mother who has a beautiful southern accent doesn’t understand a word I say and sort of looks down her nose at me when I say, “ardy”. She’ll say, “When are you going to return my silver Victorian figural napkin rings?” And I say, “I ardy did it.” She tisks with a look that says, why did we bother sending you to those schools, we should have bought you a garbage truck and sent you on your way.

  3. my accent has been scrubbed clean

    Unlike your mind.

  4. I'm picturing it like My Fair Lady over there with you and R man.

  5. My all time favorite Southernism: "Well, bless your heart!"


  6. I'm going to use your phrase about running around like a monkey with its ass on fire the very next chance I get.

  7. IN surance? Really? That's one I've never heard you say (thanks, R!). But we still have to work on the bivalve pronunciation. (Please note: that is not "pro-noun-ci-a-tion.)

  8. I hail from West Virginia. (shhh..don't breathe a word of that) But I do recall being laughed out of a dorm room in Pittsburgh once when I asked if we needed our "UHMB-rellas"...

  9. Pittsburgh?


    The nerve.

    I’ll keep my elegant southern accent over a tacky Pittsburgh accent any day.

    “Well when you’re from Pittsburgh you’ve got to do something.”

  10. Here in NEPA (pronounced knee pah) we have a dialect called hunky.
    For instance our fair city: Wilkes-Barre. Outsiders pronounce it as it's spelled, knowing it was named after two revolutionary dudes a Mr. Wilkes (no relation to John Booth)and Mr. Barre (French guy).
    So it's Wilkes-Barre with emphasis on the last syllable in Barre, right?
    Nope.....we say Wukes-Bear. Catch it at the back of your throat and choke a little. Hmmm...lot of things are like that.
    Then there's our oral shorthand.
    There's Henna, Hennah, Haintit. I could tell which town someone came from by which version they spoke & where they placed it in a sentence.
    Have you eaten? D'ja eat?
    Why no, have you? No d'jew?
    What did you eat? A sammich.
    Where are you going now? Upda house.
    A handy noun for groups of more than 1 (yes I know what I just wrote). Youse - as in Are youse going? How many of youse'll be dere? Often followed by guys just so it's clear you're talking about a group.
    Counting is fun. I had a couple or twos beers.
    them = dem
    those = dose
    there = dere
    these = dese
    On the other side of the state in Pittsburgh they say:
    Yinz for Youse
    downtown is dahntahn
    East Liberty is Sliberty
    and soda is Pop.
    If anyone from the South dropped by, we just pretended not to understand them. A lot of us weren't pretending, either.

  11. I love a gentleman with a sexy Southern accent... can you affect one for me?

  12. My granddaddy used to say, "Boys, ahm'mo clean your clocks!" and that's when they knew it was time to run (like a monkey with its pants on fire).

    The only people I hear now that sound like my grandparents are old black people. Though I'll bet there are pockets of Alabama and Mississippi - white and black - where clocks are still cleaned on a regular basis!


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