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Writing Southren
by Carl Wayne

Speaking and understanding Southren is in my bones – but it's not in every editor's bones. There's some virtue, I assume, in using the evening news standard King's English, instead of our King's (Elvis's) English. To speak and (horror of horrors) spell like we speak won't get a writer published; if the story does happen to get published, it will be translated.

For a funny and informative grammar lesson, check out Tim Sander's column Grammar-R-Us on his web site at RAPPLES. It's not that we Southerners don't understand gerunds and passive voices and post labial fricatives, it's just that we are being expressive. I do believe I would watch faithfully a Turner South daily news and weather show spoken in my native language, that being Southren, and I do mean Southren – like we say Brethren, and some are known to say Sistern.

I grew up calling fellow church members Brother and Sister so-and-so, and everyone else was Mr Lucky or Ms Bettye Lou, less'en they were relatives, in which case they were Cousin or Uncle or Aint. That's right! I spelled those the way we say ‘em. For this column, I will write and spell like we talk. That orter give the editor fits.

Momma had a proverbial pot full of Southren expressions. She could suffer with the best of' ‘em. We would abide her because of the three men she had to live with. She lived all day with Arthur-itis, went to bed with Ben Gay, and got up ever day with Will Power. When asked how she was doin’, Momma usually said: "I'm suffrin death with ever breath I draw." Asked if she had eaten yet, she would say at times: "Hadn't been a bite of food past my lips today." If I told her I was comin’ to take her to get groceries, she’d make some comment about how I hadn't darkened her doorstep in days.

Momma’s brother, Uncle W.T., is more of an optimist. His reply is: "I'm able to sit up and take nourishment." I like that. My step-grandmother said she learned not to ask some folks how they were doin’, 'cause you were gonna get an organ recital, starting with their liver.

For a bigger passel of fine Southren expressions, see the Southern Speak list here at USADEEPSOUTH.COM. Now mind you, some of these sayings err on the side of being expressive, even if they might be a bit earthy and cause some of the more delicate ladies to blush and fan theyselves with funeral parlor fans.

Uncle Aubrey of Laws Hill, Mississippi, and Ralph Graham of the Herr'kin community on Duncan Creek in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, could relate just about any condition to another. Someone might be hot as a wolf, sleepy as a cow, full as a tick, mean as a snake, or fat as a pig. It could be rainin like a cow peein on a flat rock, which (for those who never saw such a sight) is a mighty downpour. Somethin’ might be as hard as tryin’ to hit a marvel with a greasy ballpean hammer.

Now, using language I can relate to would make a fine news and weather forecast. Are you listening, Ted Turner? In my gardenin’ columns I want to say black aints, or piss aints, is on my peOnies, since that is DI-rectly the way we say it. Same thing for my mater and tater vines. I have to write about tobacco horn worms, larva of the hummingbird hawkmoth, on my tomato plants, when what I mean is I have them big green suckers on my mater vines. Now, I would read a gardening column like that if I could jest find one. Are you listening, Southern Living Magazine?

Editors ain’t mean, they's just doin’ what they think their readers want, or rather what their advertisers want. Bless they hearts. They don't mean nothin’ of it. (In Southren we can say anything about anyone as long as we end it with Bless His/Her Heart.)

I realize some of our expressions need a little splaining, like the time a Yankee friend overheard a Southren gentleman ask a lady: "Who were you?" The Yankee friend asked me to tell him what that meant. I told him it makes perfect sense in Southren. If it don't, you wouldn't unnerstand anyways.

Aint God good!


Carl Wayne tells us about himself:
"I write gardening articles for the Collierville, Tennessee, Independent, the Southaven, Mississippi, Press, and Desoto Magazine, all from a Southern perspective. I point out the correct pronunciation of ants (aints) and peonies (peOnies) and advise always to plant hydrangeas on the north side of the house. I've been in software development forty years, the last twenty with a large overnight express delivery company. I have taught computer science as adjunct faculty at local universities over twenty-five years. We have a small farm in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, where we raise a large garden with my in-laws. My in-laws were there when the REA strung the first electric wires in that area. They were killing hogs. That night for supper they had liver and lights."

Write Carl Wayne at this e-mail address: Rows of Buttercups

Read more of Carl Wayne's stories at USADS:
Southern Snakes
Laws Hill Fish House
Me and Mimi in the garden

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