A Southern language by any other name…

Southern writer Harper Lee

Somebody who appreciated Southern speech: Nelle Harper Lee in 2007. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

I was up in the Shenandoah Valley with my sib and nephew last weekend, attending a German-themed cultural festival. On the way home, we got to discussing “bless your heart”, “up the country” and other expressions that are uniquely Southern. It made for a LOT of comedy.

I’m fascinated by how we Americans use different regional words or expressions for the same thing. A submarine sandwich can be called a “sub” in one region, but the same sandwich may be known as a “hoagie” or a “grinder” someplace else.

I have a running joke with another blogger that there are three expressions that a Southerner always uses. “Hush!” or “Oh, hush!” is what a Southerner usually says when he or she wants you to shut up, quickly.

The other two expressions are “Y’all” (for my readers outside the U.S., that’s “you all”) and “good ol’ boy”. By one classic definition, that’s a Southern male from 16 to 60 who likes hunting, fishing, coon dogs, corn liquor and good-looking women, not necessarily in that order.

“Bless your heart” should be added to the list. That’s a Southerner’s way of patting you on the head (metaphorically speaking), when they don’t agree with you.

It’s interesting to see how novelists work Southern speech into their books. Some get it, some don’t.

The Southern accent also varies depending on where you are. I’ve heard “Worshington” for Washington, DC, “Nawlins” for New Orleans and “chimbley” for chimney. That one comes from my uncle, who still retains his Shenandoah Valley accent.

I definitely notice the Valley twang a lot more whenever I go back there. Valley people use a lot of “R” — a tire fire becomes a “tarr farr”. “I’m going fishing” turns into “I’m going feeshing” with the emphasis on “feesh”.

I don’t know if anybody’s ever studied the Valley accent or the different Southern accents, but wouldn’t it make a fascinating book? Y’all think?

Blog readers, got any quirks of regional language or speech to share?

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