I have met a number of folks recently who migrated from across the Mason-You-Know-What-Line and have settled in the Great State of Georgia. We enjoy each other’s company, but there is a bit of a language barrier. We all speak the same one – English – but we speak it differently. They talk fast and make their point quickly. In the South, we tend to meander a bit and say things softly and slowly.
I’m not really sure why we Southerners talk like we do, but the fact is that we do. There is no question we are economical with the language. Unlike other parts of the country, we don’t find it necessary to stick extraneous letters on our words. Like putting a “g” on the end of words. If you haven’t figured out that we are saying “fussin’” or “fightin’” by the time we get to the end of the word, sticking a “g” on it, ain’t gonna make much difference.
Same with “r’s.” We use them on the front end of important words like “Readin’” and “Rasslin’,” but we don’t feel compelled to put them on a lot of other words, like “over” or “under.” We just say “ovuh” and “unduh.” Even the Supreme Being doesn’t rate an “r” in the South. We just call him “Lawd.” (“Lawd, what’s all the fussin’ and fightin’ about? I thought it was ovuh.”)
And then there is the word that defines us perhaps more than any other: “Y’all.” (Actually, it is two words, but just one to Southerners.) Instead of going to all the trouble of referring to “you people” or to “those of you assembled,” we just say y’all, Émigrés may think we are referring to yawl, a two-masted fore-and-aft-rigged sailboat with the mizzenmast stepped far aft so that the mizzen boom overhangs the stern. Trust me, y’all. We ain’t.
“Fixin’” is one of our favorite words in the South. We use it like everyone else does when we are going to repair something. However, we also use “fix” as a substitute for “preparation” which has too many “r’s” and takes too long to say. We “fix” supper and then announce to the family to wash up because “we are fixin’ to eat.” But one thing you will never hear a native Southerner say is “I’m fixin’ to go to watch me a little ice hockey.”
An expatriate from New York described to me the shock she experienced when a friend told her she was “fixin’ to pick up Momma and carry her to the grocery store.” It conjured up visions of lifting a frail old lady out of her rocking chair, hoisting the poor thing on her back, and trudging off to the grocery store.
In fact, what her friend was saying was that she was making preparations to drive to her mother’s home in order that the two of them could ride to the grocery store and do their shopping together. But, again, why waste all those words. She knew what she meant. So did Momma.
In the South, we use many of the same words that people do in other parts of the country. We just assign them different meanings. Take the word “bard.” Your first thought might be William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon. Here, “bard” means you took something that doesn’t belong to you and you had better return it when you get through with it. (“Dang it, Honey! That sorry brother of yours done bard my riding mower again without askin’.”)
Noah Webster defines “moan” as “to utter a low dull sound from grief or pain.” When we say “moan,” we mean to get the lead out and start moving. (“Moan, Clarence, we ain’t got all day.”)
Same with “far.” Some define far as a long way off. Far keeps us warm and we can cook on it, too. To many people a ranch is a place in Montana where Ted Turner raises buffaloes. We have ranches, too, only our ranches are more utilitarian. We have pipe ranches and socket ranches and we need them if we are fixin’ to fix things.
Finally, to my friends from up North, if I say “Hi-U,” I’m not talking about a soft drink or a place that rents trailers. I’m saying hello. That’s the universal Southern greeting. It means I’m glad to know y’all. And, indeed, I am. Now, if y’all will excuse me, I must go. I’m fixin’ to pick up my friend and carry him to supper.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb