Speak Easy

What do you call someone who speaks three languages?  Trilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks two languages?  Bilingual.
What do you call someone who speaks one language?  American.

Story Adele Elliott

Okay. It’s a tacky joke, usually told by arrogant Europeans. But, it also shows how little “furners” know about this country. The U.S. is a pretty big place, with all sorts of people. It is not a country of sameness, especially in language, especially in the South.

This year we recognize the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. The battles are long over, the tears have dried. We are left with the detritus-worthless, crumbling, paper money and some amazing antebellum structures.

Other, less tangible things, linger, as well. Many still embrace the concept that we will always remain a bit divided. Let’s face it, most Yankees think that Southerners are just plain “dumber ’n a bag of hammers.”

I, however, argue that we do not speak one language here and are, therefore, much smarter than we get credit for. Americans speak a language that is based mostly on English, a tongue that was not even “raised up” on our shores. “Southernese” is complex, colorful and alive. It is the King’s English. So what if that “king” is Elvis. It elevates us from those ordinary mono-linguistic people.

People in the Deep South are always “fixin’” to do something. Evidently, every act requires preparation. We are often “fixin’ to go by my momma an’ them.” I think that may be based in the belief that the home is the domain of the mother. Fathers and other family members are as superfluous as “tits on a brass monkey.”

We all know about “Well, bless your hea-ar-at.” The implication is all in the inflection. This phrase can mean, “I am so sorry for you,” a literal translation, or something more sinister and insulting. Often, it is code for You are just too stupid to live.

Blessings come in many forms. Someone “blessing you out” is a very bad thing. The term is a stand-in for “cussin’.”

My favorite is the much-maligned “y’all.” It is inclusive and truly polite. “Y’all, come to my barbecue,” is so much nicer than, “You, come to my barbecue.” The latter leaves questions about who is actually invited. I have suffered much ridicule from my more sophisticated cousins about that contraction. Still, I refuse to let it go, because “y’all” makes much sense to me.

Southerners invented the address, “Miz,” long before the Feminist Movement of the early 1970s introduced “Ms.” Both are pronounced the same and have the same meaning. You may use it with someone’s first or last name. It is a sign of respect for any lady, whether she be married, single or a “grass widow” (one whose husband has “hit the road,” so to speak).

It’s no secret that the southern part of the country has produced some of the best writers in the world, not to mention orators who were “gooder ’n grits.” Perhaps this is because we are not uni-lingual. We have been influenced by so many colorful cultures.

Truly, “thare” is no one Southern accent. (Pay attention, Hollywood.) If we are to be judged by the movie and television representations of the South, then we all sound like Scarlett O’Hara or Gomer Pyle. I come from New Orleans, unquestionably the Deep South. Filmmakers seem to think we are all Cajuns.

Here, we love our unique language, and are proud that we were smart enough to create it, speak it and understand the vast vocabulary. And that ain’t” jus’ whistlin’ Dixie, bubba.” Thank ya’ very much.