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Frankly speaking of Southern comfort

Published 11:00pm Friday, March 15, 2013

Knowing good grammar and speaking it are two different things.

I do different things.

Having grown up around beautiful, wonderful folks who, as Mama would say, “murdered

the King’s English,” I have always found the rural Southern dialect to be … comfortable.

It’s easy to be around. Not like the pins and needles I often find myself on when folks are speaking so “proper” that my mouth clamps shut like a clam’s shell and I can’t listen to what they are saying because I’m trying to conjugate verbs in my head.

I know good grammar as evidenced by my survival of Marilyn Phillips’ and Eleanor McKeller’s high school English classes.

The most stressful day of my life was spent alone with Mrs. Phillips. She had asked me to write an article about her late husband’s Coca-Cola collection. She failed to mention that the collection was warehoused in LaGrange, Georgia – two hours away.

If she had, I would have cut the toes off my foot to keep from going. As it was, my tongue went lame. It stuck to the roof of my mouth and wouldn’t come down. I could hardly swallow and my breathing was labored.

Luckily, Mrs. Phillips did almost all the talking and her questions could be answered with a slight movement of the head.

On the long ride, Bubba’s words came back to me. We had both grown up around folks who were more concerned with the content of what they were saying than with the pronunciation or the subject-verb agreement. Knee-deep into his college curriculum, Bubba announced at the dinner table, “I can’t stand educated folks.”

Some “educated” folks do, perhaps, unknowingly make you feel a bit uncomfortable in their presence if your roots are showing.

That’s why I reckon so many Southerners have made a conscious effort to lose their accents.

Now, before I get accused of advocating poor grammar and backwoods talking, well, maybe I am.

It’s not the gospel that you have to hang “ings” onto verbs, enunciate “Ts” so sharply that your tongue whips out like a frog after a fly or say “she and I” and stuff like that.

We, as Southerners, shouldn’t murder the King’s English but we do need to realize that our way of talking – that slow, almost lazy way of talking – defines us in a unique and comforting way. It’s who we are. It sets us apart and we should be proud of it and quit trying to talk like a CNN news anchor.

If the rest of the populous would admit it, they probably wish they were confident enough to talk like us.

  • Dianne Farrior

    Just wanted you to know how much I enjoy your columns. I also studied under the Ms. Phillips at both Charles Henderson and Troy U. In my career, folks used to laugh at how my accent would change based on if I were speaking to someone in Mississippi or San Francisco. When I come back to Troy, my kids say my Magnolia Mouth gets really bad. Thanks for being a bright spot in my day. Since Celestine Sibley’s passing, you are the only one I can turn to for good writing with a message.

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  • BH1880

    I also studied under Mrs Phillips, as did most everyone in southeast Pike county. The only thing I can compare it to is boot camp, once was enough but I would take nothing for the experience. Age, time and all those students have caught up with her. I will see her soon and she needs your prayers.

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