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Sense and Nonsense: Serving up another heaping helping of the Southern tongue

February 11, 2013

By Lynda Hollenbeck

A recent column about Southern sayings apparently spoke to a lot of area residents.
For what it's worth, when you write a column like this — or any column at all — you wonder if anyone will read it. After that, you wonder if anyone will like it.
Through the years I've been surprised many times at readers' evaluations. I may not hear from anyone regarding something I sort of expected to stimulate a response, while something I just threw together in a big hurry without a lot of thought will generate a lot of comments.
I love hearing from readers even when they don't like something I've said. Although I have a stubborn streak (no comments needed from anyone on that), I can be persuaded to embrace other positions if given enough arguments. Cursing and shouting aren't the best approaches to effect this, but I'll listen to even this briefly — after which I'll suggest that we get on more congenial footing to continue the exchange.
But back to the Southern talk. I did hear from a lot of people, and I appreciate those responses.
Someone told me that I omitted a key expression that Southern folk use regularly: That's "fixin' to ... (cook breakfast, go to the store, write a book, etc.)"
Southerners, in most cases, are a little less hurried than our Northern counterparts, so that fits right in with the more relaxed approach. We have to be "fixin' to do something" before we jump right in and start doing whatever it is.
I guess it's part of our charm.
Consider the omission noted and duly recognized in this space.
There are a zillion of these expressions, some of which are included in newspaper columnist Steve Mitchell's "How To Speak Southern." It was published initially in 1976 and, due to its popularity, has gone through several subsequent publications. He's also written other accounts of such stuff.
In response to my column, a reader recently brought me a copy of his original work. It's a humorous account, beginning with the dedication: "This book is dedicated to all Yankees in the hope that it will teach them how to talk right."
I wouldn't touch that thought with a biscuit straight from a Southern oven. (Honestly, I have Yankee friends and relatives and love them despite our different ways of talking.)
Much of Mitchell's account focuses on pronunciation of words, such as "bidness" for "business" and "batry" for "battery." Just listen and you'll hear these nearly every day.
It also lists the time-honored Southern pronunciation of the beverage that my late mother considered manna from heaven: "Co-Cola."
Mamma never called it a Coke and certainly not Coca-Cola. It was always "Co-Cola" and preferably in the green glass bottles that the drink was sold in from the start.
But the book also includes some classic words and phrases that are just as Southern as an iron skillet full of cornbread.
I was reminded of several after reading through the account, such as:
•"Bound to," as in "too much candy is bound to give you a stomach ache."
•"Coming up a cloud." That's a weather forecast in case somebody doesn't know it already. It means a storm is imminent.
•"Not about to," meaning you have no intention of doing something. "I'm not about to tell you his name. You'll have to find that out from somebody else."
"Liable to," often pronounced "libel," as in somebody is likely to do something, such as "she's liable to shout that to the rooftop."
•Let on" for reveal. "Don't let on that you know it already. Wait till the announcement is made."
"Prolly" instead of "probably," as in "I'll prolly do that tomorrow instead of today."
"Spect," for "suspect," as in "I spect she'll be the first one to raise her hand." (That's another one that had a prominent place in Mamma's vocabulary.)
"Tacky." That's a byword for any good Southern woman. I grew up knowing that whatever I wore, it had just better not be tacky or I would surely hear about it from a higher authority, namely my mother.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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