Can you speak Southern?

Published 1:47 am Saturday, January 25, 2014

Most of us have friends or relatives who were not born in our beloved Southland. I was speaking to one of those by telephone when she asked me to repeat what I said. She laughed and explained that she still had a little difficulty now and then understanding “Southern.”

This dear person eats her dinner at the same time we have supper. She has never heard of anyone making a meal from cornbread broken into pieces in a bowl of milk. She was aghast when I mentioned that when my cousin and I were growing up, he ate banana sandwiches with peanut butter on one side of the bread and mayonnaise on the other. Likewise, she never heard of a pineapple sandwich until she came south. She is the same person who looks at me with a blank stare if I say someone is “bad off” when that person is seriously ill.

When we moved to Covington County in the late 1960s, I had no idea what someone was talking about when he/she mentioned a “soogin,” referring to a cap that people in other parts of the state know as a toboggan. I was puzzled when I heard someone say, “We can go on my car.” Then when I mentioned that something looked like it was going to “tump over,” meaning fall, I found it was an unfamiliar word in the area. I know I picked it up around Birmingham, where I grew up, but was shocked when my mother said it was unfamiliar to her.

We had a neighbor at a trailer park near Knoxville, Tenn., who was reared in the Tennessee mountains near the birthplace of Sgt. Alvin York, the famous and most decorated American World War I veteran. One day when she told me some friends were giving a “share” for her recently engaged daughter, I wondered what in the world she meant. When she mentioned it again while we hung out clothes one morning, I questioned her.

“You know,” she said, “where you have a party and give presents.” I just was not tuned in to her mountain accent.

Speaking of the way folks in Tennessee speak, I was surprised when I heard so many people in Cookeville, a friendly college town in Middle Tennessee, say “you-ins.” It was similar to our “you-all,” always in the plural, contrary to what non-Southerners believe.

My son, speaking to a California-born friend one day, mentioned he was “stove up” from physical exertion. Then he had to explain himself. The Californian had never heard that expression.

During my time at the Andalusia Star-News, I enjoyed typing Mrs. Lou Brown’s delightful “Country Roads” column, turned in handwritten, often on theme paper. Mis’ Lou introduced me to some new words, such as “mully grubs,” meaning feeling blue, and “brethren and sistern.” She often mentioned her husband, Mr. Pat, to whom she referred as “mi’ lord” or her “precious darlin’.”

Aren’t we glad we were “born Southern.”