Friday, June 01, 2007

Southern Survival 101: Stuff We Say

Oh, Lawdy do we like to tawk down heuh!

We just do it much.....much....more......slowly.

It takes longer for us to say things, because we like to add extra syllables to words like:

pen (pay-un, also sometimes pronounced like "pin")
here (hee-uh)
gas (gay-ass) -- *snicker* Ok, that has never seemed funny to me until typing it just now.
head (hay-ud)
beer (bee-yur)

And we like to drag out the vowel sounds in other words like:

oil (uuuuuuuuuhl) -- Like you're getting an "uhl" change in your car.
nice (niiiiiiiiiice)
child (chiiiiiiiiiiile) -- We must like that "i" sound a lot.

The main reason we talk so slowly is because it's just too damn hot to talk fast. I am not kidding. You don't understand how much the weather affects your abilities to do things quickly. But more on our weather later.

To most of y'all, since you're not Southern, you probably think all Southern accents are the same. I beg to differ. Just like our BBQ sauces, we have variations from state to state.* A Tennessee accent is different than a South Carolina accent or an Alabama accent. Georgians speak differently than Texans. However, the differences are very slight and can only be picked up by the trained ear. It is only recently that I can sometimes tell I'm speaking to someone who's not from SC. I would also like to add that I can easily pick up on a Virginia accent, which is to be assumed, considering that's my home state. People say, "But I know this guy from Virginia, and he doesn't have an accent!" -- to which I reply, "Well, then you weren't talking to a true Virginian, my friend. You were talking to a transplant from Illinois or something."

Although rare, the Virginia accent is both subtle and refined. If you've ever heard Douglas Wilder speak, I can tell you he's got one of the finest Virginia accents I've ever heard. And my friends who've heard me imitate Jimmy Keller ("Jimmah Kellah") and Bobby Goulder ("Bawbee Gawldah")--two men my family knows-- have heard the Virginia accent, too.

Other people with authentic Southern accents include: Dolly Parton, Reba McEntire, Bill Clinton, Jeff Foxworthy (and crew), Andy Griffith and most of the cast of Designing Women. (Dixie Carter has one of the most beautiful Southern accents I've ever heard, actually.)

I'm sure you've heard poorly imitated Southern accents before. Most of them come from Hollywood. (Off the top of my head, I can't think of any good impressions on film. Maybe Gone with the Wind. ) But if you really want to hear a true Southern accent, you've got to be around someone who was born and raised down here. Preferably someone who was raised out in the country or deep down South. What do you mean you can't understand them? That means it's authentic! Now hush up and listen. You might start talkin' right in a bit.

Of course, it's not only how we say it, it's what we say, too. I'll try and sum it up for you here, although I'm sure I'll miss some big ones.

The most notorious of all is of course, "y'all". I am going to set the record straight, once and for all. "Y'all" is PLURAL. It always was, it always will be. We say "you" when referring to one person and "y'all" when referring to more than one person. I think where some of the confusion comes in is when we say "ALL of y'all". This phrase is only used when there might be some misunderstanding as to how many people in the room the speaker is referring to. Every group? Some of y'all? "ALL y'all" settles it once and for...well, all. It means EVERYONE. Example:

Mother: "I know, Bobbie Sue, y'all are having a good time playing with the water balloons, but ALL y'all need to get in here right quick and help me make supper. Now, git!"

You see, Bobbie Sue was trying to tell her mother that she and her friends were exempt from helping because it was Bobbie Sue's birthday. Bobbie Sue was trying to convince her mother that only her little brothers should be required to help. Her mother needed to emphasize to her that every single child present is to help her out with supper. Hence the use of "ALL y'all". And in case you're wondering, yes, this phrase is often used by aggravated mothers and teachers when attempting to discipline a group of unruly children:"All y'all better knock it off right quick!!!"

This brings me to another difference about Southern speech patterns. When choosing how to explain something, the Southerner will always choose the longest way possible. We understand how important it is to explain that the reason little Wade wasn't invited to Bobbie Sue's party was because his mother was too fast in high school. And all the mothers in town know this because Wade's mother was caught by the head cheerleader (who also happens to be Johnetta's mother) making out with the football coach's 32 year-old son under the bleachers after the homecoming game of 1987, and she hasn't stopped sucking face with eligible bachelors since.

You see? No one adds color to an explanation like a Southerner. If you think I'm kidding, try reading the wedding announcements in a small-town Southern newspaper. By the time you're done reading one, you'll know what color the mother of the bride's dress was, what was served at the reception and what the groom's great-grandfather did for a living. They go on and on and on. The paper in my hometown even has an entire section called, "Social Life". But more on this later. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Where was I? Oh yes. Another infamous "Southernism" is yonder. Now, I myself don't know anyone who says it, but I'm certain some people still say it, especially out in the sticks. (Sticks = waaaaay far out in the country) People supposedly "reckon" things, but it's not very common. Proper use in a sentence: "Well, since the weather's nice and it ain't too hot, I reckon I'll mow the grass today."

Sometimes we put the emphasis on the first syllable: POlice, CEment, INsurnce (yes, that's how it's pronounced. There's no "a"), BEhin' (that's what you sit on), DISplay, etc.

Sometimes we use the same words y'all do, we just pronounce them differntly (again, that's how it's pronounced -- there's only one "e" in that word). Examples:

air = err ("I think I jus' need some fresh err.")
Atlanta = Lana, the cap'tal uh Jawjuh
barbwire = bob war
borrowed = bard
business = bidness
can't = caint (this one is usually said by someone from the sticks)
Carolina = Cur uh lie nuh
caught = cot
children = chillen
did y'all? = jawl?
did you eat? = jooweet?
different = differnt
England = Anglun
everybody = everbuddy
except = ah-cept
feel = full ("I don't full good, Mama! I think I'm see-uck.")
fell = fail ("He fail off the roof!")
folk = foke
for = fur or fore (often dragged out into almost two syllables: for-uh)
foreign = farn
Georgia = Jaw juh
going to = on ("I'm on gitcha! Cummere!" or "I'm on the store, you need anything?")
going to = gawn tuh (another version)
government = gubmint
guard = god ("He worked as a god down at the bank and loan.")
hair = her ("Get your her done")
have you? = view?
how are you? = hire yew?
idea = ideer (found mainly in the mountains)
ignorant = ignernt
isn't it? = id nit?
kin to = kintah (to explain you're related to someone -- your "kin-foke")
know them = nome ("I don't nome at all. They're new in town.")
marry = murry ("They're gettin' murried next month!")
mirror = mirrah or meer (depends on where you are)
other than these = udder knees
Paris = parse, purse or PAIRiss
pecan = pee can (this is the ONLY correct way to pronounce this word!)
picture = pitcher (and yes, it can be confusing at times, as we pour drinks out of pitchers, too)
plain = plane
retired = retard (funny, I know)
Saturday = Say-ur-dy (I actually hear this one a lot, b'lieve it or not)
something to eat = sumpin teet ("Jawl git sumpin teet?")
steal = still ("He got 'rested for stillin from the drugstore, you know.")
sure = shore (also heard a lot)
talk = tawk
think = thank ("Hmmm. I thank so...")
tires = tars
to = tuh ("Where ya gawn tuh?")
told = tole
told you = tole juh
tower = tire (As in, the Eiffel Tire)
veteran = vetern
Virginia = Fuh gin yuh
walk = wawk
wash = warsh (this is usually found in the mountains only)
where = whir ("Whir in God's name are you gawn tuh, son?")
whine = wine ("Quitcher wine-in!")
word = wuhd (this is kinda old-school, upper class Southern. You don't hear it much anymore. Kind of like "Suh" for "sir".)
wrench = ranch
yard = yawd

Sometimes we use entirely different words than y'all do:

It's not a purse. It's a pocketbook. "Purse" is the capital of France.
It's not a couch. It's a sofa.
It's not a frying pan. It's a skillet.
You don't tell a lie, you tell a story.
You don't have a temper tantrum, you pitch a hissy fit.
You're not ugly, you're plain. (Ugh, this is the kiss of death, seriously. You never want to be "plain"!)
You're not getting ready to, you're fixin' to.
It's not a shopping cart, it's a buggy.
You don't get it, you fetch it.
You don't throw it, you chuck it.
You don't misbehave, you cut up.
It's not an animal, it's a critter.
You don't kick someone's ass, you whup their BEhin'. With a switch.
It's not the grocery store, it's just "the store".
It's not the country club, it's just "the club".
When you get home from the store, you don't put things away, you put them up.
They're not goosebumps, they're chill bumps.
You don't push it, you mash it. (I have to say, I don't think this is used much in SC)
You don't turn it off, you cut it off.
It's not a faucet, it's a spigot. (Pronounced "spick-it")
It's NEVER a pail, it's always a bucket.
You don't wear sneakers or trainers to the gym, you wear tennis shoes. ("Tenny shoes")
You don't want affection, you want some sugar.("Gimme some sugar!")
Grandma doesn't want you to hug and kiss her. She wants you to love on her.
You're not difficult to deal with, you're ornery. ("Orn-ree")
You don't get upset, you get riled up.
You're not rude or mean, you're ugly. And God don't like ugly.
You're not making a scene, you're carryin' on or makin' a fuss.
It's not a bag, it's a sack.
You're not still angry, you're sore about it.
You don't do something really well or really quickly, you do it real good or right quick.
You didn't almost have a heart attack, you like to have a heart attack.
You don't say "I think I'll make a sandwich.", you say, "I like to make me a sandwich."
You don't stop, you quit.
You don't shut up, you hush up.
It's not a refrigerator, it's an icebox. (This is kind of old-school. Something grandmas say.)
It's not in poor taste, it's tacky. (Also the kiss of death.)
You're not low-class, you're common. (This is a major insult.)
It's not food, it's vittles.
The meal you eat around noon is dinner, not lunch.
The meal you eat around 6pm is supper, not dinner.

Let's see, what else.....

You don't ever want to be in a sorry mess. That's not a good thing.
You also don't want to be in a heap of trouble. Or a mess of trouble. That's a lot. The law is usually involved when it gets to that point.
You definitely don't want to be in a fix, either. That means you're in a pickle. A difficult situation.

If your kid is "ornry" and mischievous, you might start calling him Booger. It has nothing to do with stuff in his nose.
If you walk into a room and you find that your kids are coloring on the walls, you might say to them, "What in tarnation are y'all doin in here?!" -- Tarnation is like saying, "damnation". We also like to say "dagnabbit" instead of "goddammit".

If you're at a restaurant and you hear someone ask about "fixin's", they are asking about side dishes (cornbread, collards, baked beans, etc.).

If someone you know has just told you how they're in a heap of trouble, their mother is in a sorry mess and their brother's in a real fix, the proper response from you is: "Bless your heart!" -- that's a definite sign of sympathy. This is also a good response when someone has gone out of their way to do something really nice for you.

Women like to call everyone something other than by name: Honey, Sugar, Sweetheart, Darlin', etc.

But true Southern women know that if a girl is described as "nice", what is really meant is that the girl is simply awful for whatever reason. She could be a bitch, a whore or just simply common. You never want to be described as "nice." Also bad is "sweet". If you're "sweet", then that means the speaker pities you.

Don't confuse this with someone telling you you're sweet for bringing them flowers. THAT's a compliment. Confusing, I know.

"Cute" can go either way. It needs to be in context. A "cute" girl can be the kiss of death. But a "cute" outfit can be very stylish. "Cute" is often used as an alternate to describing a girl as "plain". If she's cute, then she's a little better looking than plain, but she's not pretty or beautiful.

On the other hand, it's good if you're described as "lovely" or "precious". Those are most definitely compliments.

It's not your "Mom and Dad". It's your Mama and Daddy (here in SC, "daddy" is pronounced almost like "deddy"). You'll hear adult, even elderly, women still refer to their fathers as Daddy. And adult men will still call their moms "Mama". Especially if they have close relationships with them.

There's also "seeins how". Example: "I don't know when we'll see Billy Bob again, seeins how he moved to China until further notice."

It's tacky to say someone died. Instead, you should use one of the following: "found relief", "passed on", "found their eternal rest" or "departed from this life."

When you leave someone's house, you'll hear, "Now, y'all come back now, ya hear?" -- That's good. That means they like you.

You can be "madder than a wet hen."

A group of orn-ree chillen are usually "making a ruckus", or a lot of noise.

People down here, when they find a good deal, like to say, "You can't beat that with a stick!" If someone's all over something, then you say "He was on it like white on rice!" Sometimes he's on it like "a duck on a june bug!"

*I forgot to mention there are pockets of very rare accents, all throughout the South. Here in SC and in parts of GA, we have a lot of islands just off our coast. They're called the "Sea Islands". Anyway, groups of African-Americans have lived here for generations, and they've developed their own culture and accent: Gullah (also sometimes referred to as Geechee). It's got a lot of ties to the Caribbean, although it's a very unique culture. They have the most beautiful accents, which I cannot imitate properly, as I've only heard it once. If you have seen Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the voodoo lady is Gullah. She's kinda got the accent. (This is a fantastic movie for observing Southern culture, btw.) There's an entry for Gullah in Wikipedia if you're interested in learning more.

Have I forgotten any??? Help me out, readers!


Phantom Hater said...

How could you have left anything out? This is the most comprehensive guide to Southernisms I've seen in a while, although I think a few of them sound more like Redneck pronunciations than classic syrupy Southern belles like yourself.

Thanks for clearing up some misconceptions about the South. I thought you were all a bunch of MGD-swilling, inbred ignorant hillbillies. I was wrong. You don't swill it, you sip it from a glass. :)

Nah, just kidding. These posts have been very informative.

Virginia Belle said...

PH-- this is true. only a truly common girl drinks beer from a can or bottle. ladies ask for glasses. LOL

ok, not usually. that's pretty old school.

but i did forget some words:

do you want to? = yawn too?
internet = inner-net
boil = boll (like "low cun-tree boll down" -- that dish i tawked about in the vittles post)

the next post will be about living down here. what's it like? how do we behave? etc.

cmk said...

Once again, I am truly amazed how many of the things you talked about are true here, as well. And you can't get much further north than we are!

When we lived in Charleston SC, I was told that their accent was unique. Correct? I'm sorry, but most southern accents sound alike to me. (And, also, I have NEVER talked with any kind of accent myself! :))

Becky said...

alright i got my stuff to input as the resident texan here lol. every southern state has diff accents. totally. georgia i think has the prettiest of them...while i feel that alabama or arkansas have the worst (sorry to those of you from there lol) and so now i'll put in here how WE say those phrases/words you put here in texas. btw, we all say "all ya'll" cuz of couse that means ALL of YOU all! and we do say fixin.

pen- (pin)
here (hair)
gas (gas)
head (hid)
beer (bear)
oil (ol)
nice (nahce)
child (chald)

those are just a few! xo

Alison said...

"Tarnation" and "right quick." I'm going to have to use those in my classroom on Monday. The kids will love it.

mama.librarian said...

library = li-bree
Coca-Cola = Co-Co-Luh
Oh, and you never wear a bathrobe. It is called a housecoat.

Dixie said...

When I moved to Upstate New York, everyone would poke at me for saying "cut the light on or cut the light off". And I deffinitely got strange looks when I called a "cart", a buggy. They had no idea what the hey I was talking about. Thank God I moved back home to Georgia!

This is a fabulous post and I hope you don't mind, I'm going to link to it.

Meghan (The Declaration of MY Independence) said...

Wow, I am all set for next month now! I loved it! Here in Pittsburgh, we call carts buggys too...I had no idea you southerners used it too!

Fact: Words such as "ya'll" and "all ya'll" are usually ghetto slang up here. Funny huh?

Oh, let me tell you about the long winded southerners...good lord! My cousin is a Baltimore transplant living in Texas, and she married a TRUE TEXAN...his names Archie and everything. Nicest guy ever. But his family will chew your ear off. It got to the point where they were telling me about their dog, Little Larry. You see, Little Larry got named after their cousin Big Larry because all Big Larry does all day is lay around and beg for food. Apparently thats what Little Larry did too, hence the name. Funny freakin story though!

The Kept Woman said...

That's a pretty comprehensive list I think. There was this place in Austin (TX) that sold CD's on "How to Talk Texan"...very similar to your list and examples.

Here in The Land of Snow and Cheese (where I have to live...for awhile anyway...I feel like Paris in jail) they also drag out syllables...'boat' (bow-uht) and they used funcky phrases like, "You betcha" and "Dontcha know"'s very Fargo.

patti_cake said...

I"m from SC and on Saturday I bought the cutest t-shirt it is a GRITS shirt that says "southern girls don't drink, they sip...a LOT".
Southern Girls rule!

kimmykins13 said...

Well I think you hit the nail on the head on most everything

Young'uns - ie: She has a mess of young'uns


Samhill - What in SAMHILL are you doing????

Stuck said...

You do, indeed, know someone who says yonder. I also say most everything else on the list. I just don't say them in Columbia. But if you ever see me drunk around my family, I'll be talking like a true Southerner. (Suth-ner)

And, to CMK, a Charlestonian accent is very distinct if you live here. The lowcountry in general has a different flavor of words, and we can always pick it out. I reckon we all sound alike to y'all, though.

RWA said...

That is an outstanding list. You have done an exceptional job with this entire group of posts about Southern survival.

Well done.

Memphis Steve said...

Dixie sent me over. You pretty much nailed it all. I can't think of much to add, except that when a woman says "bless your heart" sometimes it means "fuck you." Only southern women, in grandma's time, never cursed. So "bless your heart" took its' place. Of course, everyone in the South already knows this, but the Yankees are frequently mystified by it.

Memphis Steve said...

OK, I just now scrolled down and saw that you have days and days of this stuff, so you probably already covered "bless your heart" having double meaning. Anyway, this is cool stuff.

Stuck said...

"Bless your heart" or "bless his heart" is also a way to make some horrible thing you've said about someone perfectly acceptable to have said.

Example - That fella over there is the most mentally retarded boy I know. Bless his heart.

Bam. Insult becomes encouragement.

(I like to try an pronounce the word verifications... "bapwipj")

Nancy said...

Whew, that's quite a bit for this Northern gal. (Dixie linked me here)

But, if I learned, or is that lernt it right ... that clears up something.

I never knew what NASCAR was ... now I know ... it's y'all just saying "nice car"


MC said...

Where I come from, it's pronounced puhcaan and nice is the opposite of common, you want to be a "nice girl."
Some of my favorite Southern phrases are "sweatin' like a whore in church," "spread out like cold supper," "weaned on a pickle," and "playin' possum."

Phantom Hater said...

Bless your heart means fuck you? That means several old ladies have cursed me out. And after I helped one with her groceries! Dried-up old bitch.

That's one thing I've noticed about some Southerners--they can manage to sound polite and insulting at the same time.

RWA said...

Oh, on further review, I do have to challenge one thing. It is indeed NOT "pee-can". It is "puh-cahn."

Or, at least it is here in Alabama, which is about as Southern as you can get!

Amanda said...

I grew up in a small town outside of Memphis. Way outside of Memphis. I moved away during High School and had not really realized how many things I say and think that are still so southern! Geez! In Atoka Tennessee, children especially, have the ability to talk amazingly fast while still talking in a southern drawl. Its actually pretty damn impressive!

Oh, and to add on to the phrases... "Its hotter out here than a horny devil!"

The Dummy said...

Wow, I didn't know you're such a linguist! I wouldn't be able to catch all those subtle differences. Must be due to how quiet libraries are. :)

Simply Dawn Marie said...

ok i was blog surfing and saw your post and that was the best thing i've read and oh so true! i dated a guy that moved up north and i'd call his job and everyone had to talk and make fun of the southern girlfriend.

that was pricless!