|Author Amy Metz|
The Myth of Southern Language
By Amy Metz
Mark Twain once wrote: “Southerners talk music!” And he wasn’t just whistling Dixie. Southerners speak in a dialect some find to be a foreign language, while others find it fascinating and beautiful.
Dialect varies in different regions and in different families, but there’s no mistaking a Southerner when he opens his mouth. Whether a Southern Belle from a plantation or a redneck from Blue Holler is speaking, a southern accent is musical.
Southern language is as much a part of southern life as grits, cornbread, pearls, and sweet tea. There’s a richness to it, an extra bit of spice like pepper in the gumbo.
So why is it that people imitate southern dialect as a put-down? Why do folks assume if you speak with a southern accent, you’re a hillbilly? Why do variations in pitch and intonation mean the difference between smart and dumb? You say tomato, I say tomahto.
And then there are those who say mater. The point is, pronunciation does not equate to IQ.
There certainly are differences in people, but does the way a person talks define them intellectually? Other regions have their equivalent of a hillbilly or a redneck.
I can’t see why “Yous guys simmer down” sounds intellectually superior to “Y’all quit actin’ up.” I say it’s a myth that one type of language is better than another.
And I would even go as far as to say southern speak is more interesting and entertaining.
Ask a Northerner for directions, and he might say, “Go down the road and turn at Stuckey’s,” but a southerner would say, “Go down that there road a piece,” or “It’s out in the boonies and over yonder a spell.”
Northerners might say, “Have I got a story for you,” while a Southerner would say, “Y’all ain’t gonna believe this sh**.” Which story would you rather hear?
However, you’ll find a lot of Southerners would never use a dirty word like a others would, and in fact they avoid cursing at all costs. This is how words like “golldernit” and “dabdamit” came about.
“I swaney” came from “I swear” because no decent southerner would dare risk offending God and their country. Some people have no compunction saying, “Kiss my ass,” but a Southerner would change that to “Kiss my grits.” Same intent, but seriously, which one is more melodic?
Southerners retain the ways of their ancestors, and expressions get handed down from generation to generation, which is why some have changed a little along the way, making it hard for some people to understand a southern expression.
For instance, “He’s the spittin’ image of his daddy,” came from “He’s the spirit and image of his daddy.”
“Get some gumption” comes from a Scottish word meaning resourcefulness and enterprise. And believe you me, Southerners have a lot of gumption.
Nobody any longer knows who Cooter Brown was, but he’s been talked about and used in expressions for so long, that any Southerner knows when you say, “He’s as drunk as Cooter Brown,” you mean he’s knocked back a few too many.
Some expressions even have origins in aristocracy. “Put up yer dukes,” came from King George III’s second son, who was the Duke of York. He loved to duel, so fighters began nicknaming their fists, “dukes of York,” which was eventually shortened to “dukes.”
Despite the stereotype and prejudice that accompanies the southern language, Southerners have a great deal of pride. I love the story of a social worker who thought the mountain people needed help and paid them a visit.
She ended up looking at the long side of a shotgun and making a hasty retreat, having learned a quick lesson in pride.
Don’t ever underestimate the intellect, spirit, and dignity of a Southerner. And don’t tell me Southerners are inferior to the rest of the country because of the way they talk. Because that dog won’t hunt.
Book trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6vIbieSgVjk
Amy Metz is the author of Murder & Mayhem In Goose Pimple Junction.
She is a former first grade teacher and the mother of two sons.
When not actively engaged in writing, enjoying her family, or spoiling her dog Cooper, and granddogs Gage and Arlo, Amy can usually be found with a mixing spoon, camera, or book in her hands.
She lives in Louisville, Kentucky and can be reached at www.amymetz.com.