Dick Yarbrough: I’m trying to explain the talk of the South, y’all

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Dick Yarbrough

Syndicated columnist

I have recently met a number of people who have migrated across the Mason-You-Know-What-Line and 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 — English — but we speak it differently. They talk fast and get their point across quickly. In the South, we tend to wander around a bit and say things softly and slowly.

I don’t really know why we Southerners talk the way we do, but the fact is we do. There is no doubt that we are frugal with language. Unlike other parts of the country, we don’t find it necessary to stick superfluous letters on our words. Like putting a “g” at the end of words. If you don’t realize we say “bustle” or “fight” by the time we get to the end of the word, sticking a “g” on it won’t make much difference.

Same with the “r”. We use them at the beginning of important words like “Readin'” and “Rasslin'”, but we don’t feel compelled to put them on many other words, like “over” or “under”. We just say “ovuh” and “unduh”. Even the Supreme Being does not note an “r” in the South. We simply call it “Lawd”. (“Lawd, what’s it like to fuss and fight? I thought it was ovuh.”) And then there’s the word that perhaps defines us more than any other. : “Yall.” (Actually, it’s two words, but only one for Southerners.) Instead of bothering to refer to “you” or “those of you gathered together,” we just say “y’all”. Emigrants may think we are referring to the yawl, a two-masted sailing ship rigged fore and aft with the mizzenmast set back so that the mizzenboom overhangs the stern. Trust me, all of you. We are not.

“Fixin'” is one of our favorite words in the South. We use it like everyone else when we go to fix something. However, we also use “repair” as a substitute for “preparation” which has too many “r”s and takes too long to say. We “prepare” supper and then announce to the family to wash up because “we are preparing to eat”. But one thing you’ll never hear from a Southern native is, “I’m ready to go watch me some ice hockey.”

One New York expat described to me the shock she felt when a friend told her she was “fixed to pick up mom and take her to the grocery store.” It conjured up visions of lifting a frail old lady from her rocking chair, hoisting the poor thing onto her back, and heading to the grocery store.

In fact, what her friend was saying was that she was preparing to drive to her mother’s house so that they could both go to the grocery store and do their shopping together. But, again, why waste all those words. She knew what she meant. Mom too.

In the South, we use many of the same words that people use in other parts of the country. We just give 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 better return it when you’re done. (“Dang it, Honey! That sorry brother of yours made my riding mower bark again without asking.”) Noah Webster defines “groaning” as “emitting a dull, dull sound of grief or pain.” When we say “moan”, we hear the sinker come out and start moving. (“Whip, Clarence, we don’t have all day.”) Same with “away”. Some define far as very far. Far keeps us warm and we can also cook on it. For many people, a ranch is a place in Montana where Ted Turner raises buffaloes. We also have ranches, only our ranches are more utilitarian. We have pipe ranches and socket ranches and we need them if we fix things.

Finally, to my friends in the North, if I say “Hi-U”, I am not talking about a soft drink or a place that rents trailers. I say hello. This is the universal greeting from the South. It means I’m glad to know you. And indeed I am. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go. I’ll pick up my friend and take him to supper.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at dick@dick yarbrough.com; at PO Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dick yab.

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