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Stories on Southern speech patterns just keep a-comin’


One of the most overused words in any language is “expert.” News people write that word a lot to avoid a long, boring title.

I don’t claim to be an expert on anything, but I’m within striking distance on Southern accents. I’ve written about them several times, usually to defend them or just in fun.

Several years ago, for example, an author named Jennifer Adams wrote a book titled “Say Goodbye to Your Southern Accent.” She claimed that your drawl, if you have one, may be holding you back. My response to her: It’s too late for me, Miss
­Jennifer, but I’m usually okay with the way I talk. The exception would  be when the telephone robot at the cable company can’t understand me.

I’ll have to admit, though, that some people do judge a person’s intelligence by his or her regional accent. And that’s a shame.

More recently came results of a study on which state has the slowest-talking people. It’s Louisiana, in case you’re interested. South Carolina is second. Floridians lead the South as the fastest-talking, but how did they separate the snow birds of Ohio?

My position: Slowing down is good on the highway and in oral communication.

Of course, Southern Living magazine glories in stories about all things Southern, including speech patterns and lifestyles.

One of the latest stories was headlined: “50 Southern Sayings You Won’t Hear Anywhere Else.” First one was “bless your heart.” A Southerner can say anything about anybody, even if it’s mean, and be absolved of meanness by adding “bless his heart” at the end. “He’s a greedy son of a gun, bless his heart.”

Other sayings include, “if I had my druthers,” “full as a tick,” “tore up,” as in “she’s really tore up about not getting invited,” “worn slap out” (actually, Southern Living, it’s “wore slap out”) and “over yonder,” which pinpoints most any distance and direction in the South.

“Getting too big for your britches” is a good one. My daddy said that of me, which was true because I was bigger than my older brother and I got his hand-me-downs.

Another Southern Living piece carried the headline, “34 Unspoken Rules of Etiquette That Every Southerner Follows.” I think it’s a bit much to say “every Southerner,” because rudeness has infiltrated the South.

Still, these are good rules: “Never chew with your mouth open” and “Always say please and thank you.” After thank you, I would prefer “you’re welcome” to “no problem, man.”
Okay, we can write about accents and sayings till the cows come home, but some people still love the Southern speech cadence.

Years ago, my wife was ordering a cone at an ice cream shop in Cambridge, Mass., when the young man behind the counter started practically jumping with excitement.
“Where are you from?” he asked, eyes wide.
“North Georgia,” she said.
“Well, I’m from Canton (Georgia),” the guy gushed.
He was so happy to hear a Southern accent, and I think he gave her a little extra vanilla in her cone.