Maybe we can fix some things

We had only been living in the South a few months when I attended my daughter’s 2nd grade open house night. I nonchalantly gazed around the room at the colorful bulletin boards, requisite hamster cages, cozy reading corner and personalized cubbies, when my ears suddenly perked up. Had I really heard the teacher say, “In language arts we’re fixin’ to read…” and moments later tell us what field trips the class might could take during the year? I glanced at the otface-surpriseher parents in the room, all of whom were smiling and nodding at the teacher like bobblehead dolls. I was the only one whose eyebrows had shot up to my hairline in complete surprise at what the teacher had just uttered.

Over the next 20 years I put all four of my children through South Carolina public schools and tolerated plenty of wonderful educators teach them in Southernspeak. I never corrected their teachers or friends – that would be rude and unkind. But I made damn sure my kids never spoke a word of it. I can even say with pride that my children don’t have Southern accents, not even the two who were born here. I have nothing against Southern accents. Some of my best friends have Southern accents. I just like mine better.

I’ll admit that I cringe inside every time I hear anyone say might could. Again, it would be rude to show my disdain, so I force myself not to squint or curl my lip in pain. I believe might could is a case of double Southernspeak. Or maybe the speaker is just overcompensating when in doubt. I don’t know where, how, why or when this phrase, or its cousin used to could, came about. All I know is that severe penalties should be meted out to anyone using them. There is nothing charming about anything you might could do even if you used to could. Are you also cringing nowWindow, too?

I find many Southern colloquialisms amusing and even charming. A favorite of mine is fell out. It’s obvious that the air conditioner in the photo on the left fell out of a window. But in Woman FaintingSouthernspeak, fell out means to have fainted, as in “Betty Jo fell out when she heard that her escort for the debutante ball had eloped with Melba Mae Carter.”

Another favorite of mine is cutting out or cutting on. Southerners cut out the lights. When it’s dark, they cut the lights on. IMG181Up North, we don’t use IMG182scissors or knives to turn light switches on and off. Actually, I don’t think they’re used for that purpose anywhere, not even down South. I have also heard Southerners use the word cut as a type of punishment meted out to disobedient children, as in “I’m gonna cut your tail if you don’t behave.” Ouch.

Northerners also have their share of language idiosyncrasies. Western Pennsylvanians drink pop (pronounced pawp). Down South it’s called coke, no matter the brand or flavor. Pennsylvanians also fish and swim in the crick. Everyone else in the country knows a crick is actually a pain in the neck resulting from sleeping in an odd position all night. My mother is from Western Pennsylvania, and I’m proud to say she speaks lovely Mid-Atlantic East Coast English. She can, however, revert to her native tongue when she visits family back home. I ignore her when she does that.

There’s no doubt I’ll be focusing on other Southernisms in future posts. It’s impossible to try to cover them all at once. What are your favorite and/or least favorite regional colloquialisms? Please share them with me in the comments section below or post them on the Carolina Yankee Facebook page. You can also let me know of other topics you’d like to see covered in the future here. And follow me on Twitter!

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22 thoughts on “Maybe we can fix some things

  1. Well, even though I used to wawk, tawk and drink cawfee, my children don’t.
    Try getting a southerner to say “Merry Mary will marry.” How about supposably, say hey, and falling off the roof? I could go on,but I won’t. Some regionalism are fun, but they don’t belong in the classroom.

  2. Yes, “supposably” is another cringe-worthy word. Readers may want to know that Sue is from New Yawk who currently resides in Florider and is a former English teacher. Maybe one day she’ll let me post one of her poems.

  3. How about she has to arn her clothes for the interview!
    Will you holler for your brother and tell him to come do dinner, Bubba?
    Jessie shore would like to know why Angie is taking so long to get ready.

    Anna, I loved the post; it brought back happy childhood memories!!!!

    • Nobody arns anymore, do they? And around here, a holler is a valley, not something you do when supper is ready.
      Glad you enjoyed the read. Typos in the comment section are, however, forbidden! =D

  4. Whoops, I was on my daughter’s laptop and was typing way too fast. Sorry for the typo–I wish I could correct the error!

  5. One thing I noticed right away after moving to NC was that people greeted each other by saying “hey” rather than “hi.” My Dad used to say “hay is for horses.” I quickly fell into saying “hey” so as not to stand out immediately as an outsider! The other saying I love is “bless her heart,” said either before or after saying something not too complimentary about someone.

  6. Anna
    Had you forgotten that your Father sold ‘tars’? And my favorite is the southern use of ‘sorry’. Not rueful or repentant. Down here it means lacking in grace or even worth. As in: ;What a sorry person he is’.

  7. I have so many grammar pet peeves, I feel you on the “might could.” Since I moved to Washington state, the two that drive me crazy are “I seen,” and the misuse of personal pronouns. I’m used to people saying things happening to “Tommy and I.” (like people think there’s something wrong with the word “me.”) I cringe when they refer to “Tommy and I’s best friend.” But the worst is: “Him and I” did this “Her and her brother did that.” I’ve heard radio DJs and professional writers mess up the pronouns. Makes me want to scream.

    • Thanks for weighing in. One of my pet peeves is the misuse of reflexive pronouns. For example, “He and myself would both like an order of cheese grits.” And then there’s those who don’t know the difference between who and that. “That lady from New York that has been asking why we eat boiled peanuts is getting on my nerves!” That lady is a who! Yes, the Carolina Yankee is a stickler for good grammar, no matter where you come from! ________________________________________

  8. Way back in 1967, my Mum, Dad, brother and I travelled from England to live in Greeneville TN for a year, whilst my Dad was involved in a church exchange programme. As you will imagine, we have some very happy memories of our time across The Pond, and in particular the wonderful Southern accent. A favourite, which we still quote, is from a cookery show on the radio where the presenter instructed you to ‘Roll the dough into smole boles.’

  9. A jolly good read | Random AnnAcdotes

  10. Dear Carolina,

    I had a look at your facebook page and I read that you had a friend in New Zealand. [Now] I am from there and I wonder if we speak ‘southern’ [there] as well; or at any rate we used to in the 70’s.

    I have been trying to eradicate a habit of writing ‘Anyhow, …’ and also ‘At any rate, …’ in emails. I don’t know where it came from and I am sure it is poor usage. [So] Imagine my surprise when I started reading Shelby Foote and find he uses ‘anyhow’ and ‘at any rate’ with no embarassment at all.

    What gives?

  11. ” Or it’s Facebook page?” NO WAY did you write that! Who sneaked in your fingers while you were typing?

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