You’re Not From Around Here Are You?

According to the Dixie vs. Yankee accent test on www.alphadictionary.com, I’m 92 percent Dixie.

My daughter sent me the test, saying she had scored 86 percent despite, as she said, “her foray into Yankeeville.” A reference to her having lived in Baltimore for a year. I hated to tell her this, but Maryland is, in fact, a Southern state.

The first time I took it, I scored 86 percent as well, but in going over the answers, I realized that I do, in fact, pronounce the word “aunt” as “aint,” but only every now and then — usually when I’m around my family.

I was a little surprised my score was that high, being as how I hadn’t lived in my native East Texas for some 20 years. Plus, I’d been married to a “Northerner” the entire length of time.

He always contended that he was a Southerner, because he had been born in Alabama and had lived his entire life in the South. While that was true, his entire family was from up north — Detroit —  and as the saying goes, if a cat has kittens in an oven, that don’t make them biscuits.

My family had a lot of sayings — common among us Southern folk — that he’d never heard, and some of which defied explanation, but everybody knew what you meant.

Sayings like “Now don’t that just take the rag off the bush?” Or “The only thing Santa’s going to put in your stocking is a bunch of switches.” Or “I’ll be on you like a duck on a June bug.” Stuff like that.

I once mentioned switches during a conversation at a Christmas party, just after moving to Chicago. Asked how I liked living up North, I said I had experienced several things I’d never seen before at Christmastime. Snow, roasted chestnuts, below-zero temperatures.

However, I had yet to see any coal, which I understood was what Santa put in the stockings of naughty Northern children.

He asked what it was that naughty Southern children received in their stockings.

I told him they got a bunch of switches. He looked perplexed. He thought I meant switches as in a device used to turn electricity on and off.

I had to explain that in the South, switches were also slender branches pulled from a bush, stripped of leaves, then used to produce a stinging sensation, traditionally on the back of the legs of a naughty child. In the case of extremely naughty behavior, the child was told to go pick out the switch personally. The trick there was that the child would usually pick the thinnest branch, which actually stung worse than a thicker one. Sure, it may have been a little cruel, but it was also effective. There were hardly any repeat offenders under the switch program.

I could tell he was appalled. Whatever. If he’d asked me, I’d have said that the city of Chicago would have been a whole lot better off if Al Capone’s mother had taken a switch to the back of his legs.

Oh, and those roasted chestnuts? They’re nothing but big chinquapins.

But I didn’t say any of that, because my mama brought me up to have better manners.

Actually, I was quite popular in Chicago — or I should say, my quaint accent and East Texas colloquialisms were.

I was carrying on a conversation at a restaurant when a woman at the next table leaned over and said, “Excuse me, but are you from the South?”

Apparently she was quite taken with my accent, as were store clerks, friends and neighbors.

People everywhere were fascinated with my accent, as I was with theirs, although the funny thing was, they didn’t think they had one.

Darlene, for example, had a strong Wisconsin accent, as did my neighbor Maryann. In fact, Maryann’s accent was such that, I sometimes had a hard time understanding her. She offered me something to drink one day, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was that she was offering.

It sounded like “tea,” but there was a “b” sound on the end of it. Mentally, I sounded out the word. “Teeee-ahb.” “Teeee-ahb.” “TAB!”

“No! Thanks! I’ll have water,” I finally blurted out. I hate diet drinks, and I had almost agreed to drink one. What would I have said? “Oh, wait. This is Tab. I thought you were offering me iced tea — they sound so much alike.”

No, I couldn’t have said that. I’d have had to drink it, to be polite.

But when a grocery checker commented on my accent, then asked if I thought she had one, I didn’t think I was being impolite when I said yes, she did. She was surprised, and then she asked me what it sounded like, and I didn’t know how to describe it, so I didn’t.

I could have said, honestly, “Some of y’all talk just like those gangsters on “The Untouchables,” but I didn’t think that would be polite.

Which is really the truest test of being a Southerner.

Jeff Davis Pie

Jeff Davis Pie

  • 2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. half and half

Cream butter and sugar together. Add flour and vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time. Beat until creamy, then add cream. Pour into an unbaked pie shell and bake at 350 degrees.

3 Comments

  1. Debbi Corley
    Feb 26, 2013

    Well, duh, I just posted this to facebook before I saw I could reply here! I am reading this at work and sprayed Dr Pepper reading this… I remember the first time we talked after you’d moved to Chicago and you experienced your first blizzard. Your eyelids froze… it still terrifies me! I love your site. I miss you!

  2. J.S. Mack
    Dec 30, 2013

    That is so on the money anytime you venture north of that Mason-Dixon line. I was relocated to New Jersey in 1980 with my job, and everyone was fascinated every time I opened my mouth, including when a judge made a comment on my accent during my testimony in a fraud trial related to one of our credit clients! I taught out neighbor’s young daughters – then 4 and 6 – to say “ya’ll” over one 4th of July weekend and they still haven’t forgiven me, or broken them of using it, over 30 years later. It is an entirely different place, with – most certainly – their own language, and their own ways, but people are people everywhere. Great post (oops, almost dated myself by saying article.)!

  3. Bob Smith
    Mar 6, 2016

    Chestnuts=chinquapins? You have just solved one of the great mysteries of my life. I’ve always suspected that.

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