Sunday, January 24, 2010

Talking "Mountain"

Lately I've been researching Southern Appalachian speech and have been reinfusing my brain with the words and phrases I used to hear so often growing up.

I'll admit, when I was younger, I probably spoke with a more colorful accent. But public education neutralized my vocabulary, and living abroad and learning new languages killed my tendency to throw in a dipthong every time I used a vowel. I had to lose my mountain accent so my English could be understood better by non-native speakers.

It is still possible to pinpoint that I'm a mountain girl though, if you listen closely enough.

Tom says that I speak fairly accent-less English. Being from New Jersey, he can barely understand the South Carolina locals, but it sounds perfectly normal to me. But then again, Tom does laugh at my pronunciation of dah-awg (he says dough-g). :-) And he has noticed that the more I become impassioned, the more my words shift into "twang-mode".

But he says he doesn't hear my accent often, which makes me sad now that I think about it. It's a long, lost friend that I miss but can't connect with anymore.

I really didn't realize how much of my speech I had lost(the final death knell was probably living with him--you can only get so many curious looks from your husband before you automatically revert to expressions he'll understand) until I read him a list of (completely familiar to me) Appalachian phrases I'd found on the internet and asked him if he'd ever heard me use any of them. He had not.

I'm convinced he hasn't been paying attention.

That, or I automatically don't use those expressions with him, but do use them around people I know will understand them.

For example, I'm pretty sure that I say, "They went to Greenville or Spartanburg one" fairly regularly.

I tell people "how the hogs ate the cabbage."

I'm frequently fixin' to do something.

I refer to dinner as supper. I crack the window. I've been known to say "I'll be back directly," "nekkid as a jaybird," "chewed up and spit out," "something the cat drug in," and "mean as a skunk."

And I know what "he's so bowlegged, he couldn't hem up a hog in a ditch" means. (When I said that one, Tom looked at me like I was speaking Greek.)

I know my South Carolina friends understand me perfectly, even though they don't speak exactly like I do. Until I moved down here, I didn't hear "ya'll" nearly as often as I heard "you'uns" and I'll admit, even after six years here, I frequently feel unsettled by South Carolina's gentile southern drawl. Like the gentle hills of the upstate, it is a fluid and rolling type of speech. I miss rugged, craggy mountain talk. Which is another reason I don't often let fly with a twang or two. It would make the 50 some-odd miles between here and Asheville feel more like 500, and I have a hard enough time fitting in here as it is. I mean, you can't even get hushpuppies with your barbeque here. You get a slice of white bread.

If that's not a metaphor for the differences between me and the non-mountain world, I don't know what is.


  1. i know exactly how you feel.

    i was raised by an atlanta born georgia peach and a virginia born western nc by way of florida boy - in ct.

    i spent most of my youth correcting my mother's twang and generally being embarrassed by her, but sliding into it when we went down yonder to visit the folks. my father always had the gentler lulling carolina cadence and sweeter colloquialisms. while my mother could get in and muss about with hogs. bless her sweet little heart.

    i went a way to college even further north than i was raised, and found myself drawn to the southerners and ohians i came across because they sounded like home to me.

    now i live in virginia and when i come across others with a lilt or twang, i immediately swing there. i say y'all all the time now. even - god help me- alla y'all.

    i recently befriended a woman from the kentucky appalacians. love her twang! even stronger than my mother, and all my aunts and cousins...but i can cringe over her verb tenses, hopefully i'm doing so only in my head.

    god willin and the crick don't rise (as my father always said), i'll be spending a lot more time with her. ;)

  2. You forgot "reckon". When I got married and moved to Raleigh, I said reckon one day when I was teaching. They looked at me like I had 2 heads. I asked the other teachers if they had ever heard it (they were all from Eastern NC) and they said nope.
    "yonder" is another good one.
    I didn't know chewed up and spit out was regional.

  3. oh yea, i reckon i'm fixin to ....

  4. I've heard "God willin' and the crick don't rise" :-)

    While we're on the subject of how country we are, I just made a salt pack for Sam's ear (he seems to have another infection brewing).

    Anyone else use a salt pack growing up? (Small pocket-sized pillow of fabric filled with salt and heated with an iron? My great-grandmother and grandmother swore by them--said they'd pull the infection out) They are surprisingly helpful if the ear infection isn't a raging one.

  5. clsoest thing i did to that was salt water gargles for a sore throat.

  6. No, my mom always put sweet oil in my ear.

  7. Haven't ever tried a salt pack but have heard that it is a good natural remedy for things like ear aches and drawing infections etc out.
    Is "you mind me" a mountain or a southern thing?!! You know I am tempted to adopt that one. M already goes around saying "ya'll", "uh huh" - I think she would pick up the southern accent really easily! Sometimes she throws in Tom/Sam's hot dog though!

  8. That poor child! She's so confused! LOL

    If it's any consolation, Sam still says "pah-ty" (and I'll catch him saying other words like she did on occassion). :-)

    How's uh-huh, "haut dough-g" and ya'll going over in Australia, by the way?

    What do you all think? Is "you mind me" southern or appalachian or universally American?

    I know my great-grandmother from W. VA/OH used it a lot, but that region of the country borders the mountains.

  9. And I'm just curious, those of you from Ireland, Scotland, England, and elsewhere... Does any of this make the slightest bit of sense to you? :-)

  10. Oh, and Cathy, I think "alla y'all" is yankified "ya'll" since any good southerner knows that "ya'll" is plural. :-)

    By brother-in-law, (NJ (outside Philadelphia) born, living now in Upstate NY) says ya'll ALL THE TIME. More than me and I live in South FREAKING Carolina!!!

    I told Tom it offends my southern sensibilites. The same mouth that spits out grits should not be borrowing our colloquiallisms. :-P

  11. it is not yankee-fied. alla y'all is all over my family in ga. it still makes me cringe by way of ct and grammarian, sometimes y'all is used in the singular, to emphasis plural in some cases it goes to alla y'all, definitely in highly familiar conversation. but in a better grammar mode, to emphasize the plural, it is separated out to you all, emphasis stressed on the you.

    trust me, i've spent a lifetime dissecting y'all usage. lol!

    y'all better mind me is definitely southern. my mother was the only one who used it in my neighborhoods in ct.
    when my friends were over and we got rambunctious or 'pepper in our butts' they looked to me for translation when i said 'she means listen and behave'

  12. *scoffs good-naturedly at cathy*

    Well, "alla ya'll" is obviously a Georgia thing. But what do you expect from a penal colony. LOL :-P

    Obviously, I'm no expert on ya'll. My grandmother used it conservatively, but like I said, it was "you'uns" mostly where I grew up.

    I have noticed the distinction that, at least in my family, "you'uns" was used more positively, whereas "ya'll" was used negatively.

    Case in point:

    "There's a big doin' at the church later. We hope you'uns can come."

    "Ya'll better cut that racket 'for I come tan your hides!"

    And then, I'm pretty sure that getting "popped" and "whooped" are regional too.

    I'll never forget the time I went to Wisconsin and someone asked me if I wanted a pop and I flinched.

    I had to explain that down south, it was called a Coke and that the only pop I knew about was when someone would say:

    "You better hesh up 'for I pop you!"

    I'm having so much fun with this conversation. Keep 'em coming!

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  14. Sorry gramatically wonky post there...

    What I wanted to say was, we do have a alla ya'll, I just didn't recognize it at first.

    "alla ya'll" sounds like "all of you all"

    in the mountains, we say something more like "awl ya'll" which sounds like all you all.

    The distinction (might be?) that ya'll or you'uns are used to denote people you are speaking to directly at that moment.

    "Are ya'll (you'uns) comin' to church Sunday?"

    But "awl ya'll" implies the people you are speaking to at that moment and their extended family, currently not present.

    "We're having a big doin' at our place Saturday. I hope awl ya'll can come."

    Is that the same in Georgia or do other rules apply?

  15. a whuppin is for more serious offense than 'you better mind, or i'ma gonna pop you one!'

    this is a hoot ana holler!

    as for the penal colony, my people have always been good hard workin folk. we never own great-grandfather was the teacher for the county schoolhouse that went all the way to *th grade, which my grandfather repeated because he wanted to keep on learnin.

    as for awl yaw'll, that would be my uncle doe. now HE was country. married my aunt joyce and her twang rolled way out and slowed down to a snail's pace.

    i really hope this is helping your novel and not distracting from it. ;)

  16. pretty much interchangeably used the same in ga, at least with my folks. sometimes you all sometimes alla ya'll.

    the other thing in ga speak, is reversing vowels in 'homophones' ie go on out the the filld and feel the pail at the well.
    don't stick yourself with the pen/pass the pin so's i can write mama a letter.

  17. LOL Cathy! I knew you'd get your back up when I started cracking on Georgians.

    Actually, my great x3 grandfather (Sambo) was supposedly the largest slave trader in Henderson County NC... which I am not proud of. But by all accounts, he was a nasty b@stard in general, and no one in the family talks about him without a measure of digust.

    When he was conscripted into the Confederate Army, he sent his 14 year old son (great x2 grandfather)to fight in his place and promised him he'd give him the Homeplace when he returned.

    Fate (yes, that was his name--mountain-shortened form of Alexander Lafayette)returned home having survived several wounds, to find his daddy had gambled off the Homeplace to his brother-in-law in a poker game.

    Fate, on the other hand, was by all accounts a lovely person and very religious. I believe he was one of the founders of the Baptist church is Bear Wallow, and I *think* he was also a preacher.

  18. ah, you didn't really get my hackles up, that's just the hardworkin' peeople speech my family always gave.

    see, now yours is a great heritage story with fab names. you can't make that sh** up!

    i met a dr in this area by the same sir name as my mtoher's family. I asked if he thought we may be related through blah blah blah and he piped up with : "I'm descended from the horse-thievin' Stanleys of Virginia" as if this were a mark of pride. gotta love southerners' sense of familial history and and love of character!

  19. Wonderful post : ) I live west of Asheville-born and raised-so I probably have the exact accent you used to have : ) I loved reading your thoughts on the way we Appalachians speak-most of all I love that you miss it-that you think of it-and that you didn't be little it.

    I have regular Appalachian Vocabulary tests over on my site-if you're ever interested please drop by for a visit.

    p.s. Adorable header you have-reminds me of my girls when they were little-they loved to climb in things too.

  20. My mom says "God Willin' and the Creek don't rise." (She says Cr-ee-k, though, not crick.) My mom is from Indiana & full of loveable oddball sayings like "fine as froghair." Me? I am from Chicago and sound every bit of it. It's ugly, but that's okay.

  21. wow! what a discussion you've had here. just come spend a day in my house with my backwoods red neck husband. i'm a southern girl born and bred, but also being an english teacher, my grammar is straight up. 'cept when i say "i'm gonna p-o-p bust", which is one that didn't make your list. :-)


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