02 February 2019
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
For all of us, there are certain things we don't like to read in stories and novels, and things we don't like to see or hear in movies. One of those, for me, is southern dialogue that just doesn't sound right. Part of it's the accent, which is almost never believable (unless spoken by Billy Bob Thornton, who sounds exactly like my next-door neighbor)--and part of it's the writing.
Here are some examples of the way people speak in my area, which is pretty much the middle of the Deep South. I'm not saying this holds true for, say, San Antonio or Virginia Beach or Boca Raton--but it's true for Mississippi, and if you write a story or novel or screenplay set in these parts, well, here's the skinny:
- A large stream is a creek. We don't say crick, even though Hollywood thinks we do.
- A carbonated beverage is not a soda or a soft drink or a pop. It's a Coke. Even if it's really a Pepsi or a Sprite. ("Let's go get a Coke.")
- Most people, especially old folks, don't press buttons or push buttons, they mash buttons. ("Mash zero to get the operator.")
- The noon meal is dinner, not lunch. The evening meal is supper. This rule, like some of the others, gets diluted a bit the closer you get to a city.
- You don't run in sneakers, or even in running shoes or jogging shoes. They're tennis shoes.
- When you pray together before a meal, you "say the blessing."
- If you're fixin' to do something, you're getting ready to do it. ("I'm fixin' to go to town.")
- A fellow is not a fell-o. He's a fella. Also, yellow is yella and an arrow's an arra and a window's a winda.
- Garden beans that grow close to the ground (rather than on poles) are bunch beans, not bush beans, no matter what the label says. And pole beans are pole beans.
- Vegetable gardens aren't called vegetable gardens. They're just gardens.
- Flower gardens aren't called flower gardens, or gardens. They're just flowers.
- You don't say or write "Ms." with a lady's first name. It's Miss Mary, never Ms. Mary, even if she's married and has ten kids. It's a familiarity, like Miss Ellie in Dallas.
- When you say you'll be there "directly," it means you'll be there soon.
- "Don't be ugly," doesn't mean what it sounds like. It means "Be nice."
- "Once in a blue moon" means almost never.
- "Bless your heart" is used in a lot of ways, mostly to soften an insult. ("Bless his heart, he probably couldn't find his butt with both hands and a map.")
- You don't chuck something out the window. You chunk it out.
- "Hey" is used more than hello or hi or any other greeting, even when relayed: "Say hey to your mama for me."
- When you hug someone, you "hug her neck." This can also be a relayed greeting: "Hug her neck for me."
- When someone passes out, usually from the heat, he "done fell out." There's even a shortened version: "I heard Miss Sally DFOed."
- If you clear a field of briars and bushes and underbrush, you bush-hog it. You don't brush-hog it. This comes from the name of the rotary mower you use to do it.
- If something's really good it makes you want to "slap ya mama." (I have no idea where that came from.)
- Pajamas are pa-JOMMas (rhymes with Bahamas), not pa-JAMMas.
- "Carry me" means "take me" or "transport me." ("Can you carry me to work tomorrow?")
- Pecans are pronounced pa-CONNs, not PEE-canns. Though in some parts of the south (the Carolinas, maybe?) this doesn't hold true.
- Dogs are dawgs, not dahhgs; on is own, not ahhn; route is rowt, not root; either is EE-ther, not EYE-ther; oil is AW-ul (two syllables), not AW-ee-ul (three syllables); and school is SKOOL (one syllable), not SKOO-wul (two syllables). We try to cut back on those unhealthy syllables whenever possible.
- Yankees are folks who live north of the Mason-Dixon--and sometimes folks who live anywhere north of where you live, no matter where you live.
- "Y'all" is always used to address more than one person--never a single person--except in certain parts of the south and in all movies made by Yankees.
- If you look really tired, you've been "rode hard and put up wet."
- Other common southern expressions: slow as molasses, just fine and dandy, happy as a dead hog in the sunshine, gimme some sugar (kiss me), hissy fit, conniption fit, and Little Miss Priss (a young lady acting too big for her britches).
The only other things I can think of are the pronunciations of place names. Biloxi is bi-LUCK-see, not bi-LOCK-see; Grenada (city and county) is gra-NAY-da, not gra-NAH-da; Kosciusko (where I went to high school) is kozzy-ESS-ko, not the Polish koz-SHOOS-ko; Amite is a-MITT, not a-MIGHT; and Yazoo (city, county, and river) is YAZZ-oo, not YOZZ-oo; Pass Christian is Pass kris-chee-ANN, not Pass KRIS-chee-un; Shuqualak is SHOO-ka-lock; and Gautier is go-SHAY. The mispronunciation of these, especially by new TV weathercasters, is a mortal sin, and might get you transferred to Point Barrow, Alaska.
As for places outside my state but still nearby, New Orleans is new-WOLL-uns, not new-or-LEENS; Thibodaux, Louisiana, is TIB-a-doe; Natchitoches, Louisiana, is NACK-a-tosh; Kissimmee, Florida, is ka-SIM-mee, not KISS-a-mee (or gimme some sugar); Nacogdoches, Texas, is nack-a-DOE-chez; Ouachita Mountains in Arkansas is WASH-i-tah; Arab, Alabama, is AY-rab; Dacula, Georgia, is dah-KEW-lah; and Milan, Tennessee, is MY-lin. At least that's the way I've always heard them pronounced.
NOTE 1: Please inform me of any corrections to my above rules of southern speech, because--once again--I know some of them vary depending on where you live. Seriously, though, if you asked the owner of a grocery store here for pee-cans, he'd probably point and say "Down the hall to the left."
NOTE 2: I have my own views about which states make up the south, and in mine, the area's a lot smaller than the one shown here:
A question for those of you from other parts of the country: Do you have pet peeves involving accents and pronunciations and expressions? What are some of your "regionalisms?" Does it bother you when, in the movies, somebody who lives in Minnesota talks like a Georgia hillbilly, or an Indian scout in the 1880s has a Brooklyn accent, or a native of Boston says he's going to park the car instead of pahhk the cah? Let me know.
Meanwhile, I do declare, I'm finally through. We done plowed this field and it's time to rest the mule. Y'all say hey to your families for me and hug their necks. I'll be back directly.