I received a letter from a reader named Patrick, in Montclair, New Jersey. Patrick is twenty-three and married to Amy, who is from Dothan, Alabama.
Patrick writes: “I cannot understand my wife when she talks! She actually uses the word ‘yonder.’
“But the weirdest thing for me is that whenever my wife leaves a store or something, she says farewell to the clerk by saying: ‘Ight now, be good.’
“WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES THAT MEAN? Help me learn Southern English, Sean.”
Patrick, you’ve come to the right person. I can help you. The first thing to do is sit down, relax, eat something with saturated fat, and listen to a Gaither Family record.
The first thing to know about Southern English is that it is all about syllables. In this part of the world, single-syllable words can become fifteen, sometimes sixteen-syllable words.
For instance, you might have heard the word “chair” pronounced as a one-syllable word in New Jersey. It’s alright, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Your wife, however, likely pronounces this word as “CHAY-yurr.” Southerners add these extra syllables to words because this is America and you can’t tell me what to do, sucker.
Other words with extra syllables would be:
“Floor” (FLO-wurr), “tail” (TAY-yull), “God” (GAH-wud), and the name “Bill” (Willie).
Also: “Bed” (BAY-yud), “fan” (FAY-unn), “him” (HEE-yulm), “sand” (SAY-yend), “Todd” (TAH-wud), “it” (EE-yit), “leg” (LAY-yig), “Fred” (FRAY-yed), and “piano” (panner).
Keep in mind, these are not strict rules. Pronunciations may vary from region to region. One glaring exception that comes to mind would be the word “tire.”
Residents in Lower Alabama, for instance, pronounce “tire” with two syllabes (TIE-yurr). Whereas if you were to visit the Sand Mountain region, they would pronounce it as “tar” then throw a rattlesnake at you.
We also have compound words which fall under the classification of “please-repeat-yourself” words. Linguistic scientists call them P.R.Y. words for short.
These words were developed because we Southerners will often ask loved ones to repeat themselves for no apparent reason other than to shorten their lives.
After you say something to your wife, Patrick, you might hear her answer with: “do what?” This phrase is usually uttered so fast you cannot distinguish the two words. Often, it comes out sounding like, “d’wha?”
For example: “Sweetie, did you hear that Mary Sue Jo is gonna wear a maternity wedding dress?”
“Yep, I heard that her mama made the dress when she was on probation from Tutweiler.”
Another common word is “yoost-a-cud.” This word is often used by elderly men.
Example: “I can’t touch my toes no more ‘cause I ett too many tater logs, but I yoost-a-cud.”
It helps to practice these words in front of a mirror.
We also have helper words which are conversational fillers intended to assist in the expression of esoteric thought. Words like: “reggin,” or “ah-juss-bet” and “praw-luh-so.”
Example 1: “Where’s your wife today, Danny?”
“Reggin she left me ‘cause I kept playing the scratch-offs when she told me not to.”
Example 2: “I haven’t seen Jay Rod in a few weeks, have you?”
“Nope, reggin he’s hiding out after he got busted stealing copper coils from those AC units.”
There are many other words to learn, Patrick. Far too many to list. But I’ll cover a few more.
There is an entire vocabulary which comes to us from religion, even though these words aren’t used in a spiritual manner. Religion is a big part of life here, and our language reflects that.
We have words like: “Hot awmighty, and “Hoo Lowered,” and “amen‘n’amen.”
Granny might exclaim, “HOO LOWERED, Ella Sue, did you see the new bag boy at the Pig? HOT AWMIGHTY, I’d sop him up with a biscuit.”
Another church phrase would be: “‘MON NOW!” Long ago, this used to be yelled at a preacher when he was on a roll during a sermon. But today, it’s mostly shouted at Little-League games by enthusiastic, mildly psychotic parents.
“‘MON NOW, Jimmy! Hit a grand slam, Jimmy! Show some hustle! ‘MON NOW!”
It is always followed with slow clapping.
Also, “Ima” is another popular word. For instance: if your mother calls you for supper during a crucial ESPN sporting moment, you would never answer:
“Dearest Mother, I intend to join thee for supper once I hath finished watching Dale Earnhardt Jr. win the Winston Cup.”
You’d answer: “IMA BE THERE IN A SECK, MAMA!”
And you will walk with a limp for the rest of your life.
But when you get down to it, Patrick, none of the above matters. The important thing is that you relax, and be yourself. That’s the key.
Your wife loves you. And because she loves you, so do we. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, or how you talk.
If you ask me, the most important thing is that you treat people nicely; that you remove your hat indoors; that you hold the door open for females; that you don’t interrupt; that you smile often; that you shake hands with every man you meet; that you do not play with your phone at the table; and that you never attend church in Sand Mountain without a buddy.
But that is only my humble opinion.
Ight now. Be good.