Southern Idioms

When first we arrived in the US, we stayed with family in the Northern Wastes where we had to a fair bit of driving around so that the other half could catch up with friends and sort out the 1001 little things that had cropped up during her time in the Old Brown Land.

It was during these excursions that I came across the billboard that led to this story. I don’t know the name of the company it advertised because it was always the catchline that grabbed my attention: “90,000 Brides Serviced” it unabashedly proclaimed in flowing script. It might even have been 900,000; I’m not sure, we were always going along at a fair bat when we passed one – like most Americans, my wife drives way too fast – and I was always too busy smirking to care.

Anyway, 9,000 or ninety, it’s still an impressive figure, but it’s also a fair bet that the coiner of that slogan – do you coin a slogan? – has never had anything to do with the horsey world, particularly the world of the thoroughbred. Placed on a highway here in Kentucky, a billboard making such a boast might attract teevee crews from all over the State and, I suspect, not a few outraged troops of the Army of the Moral Reicht who see no humor in anything, not even in Pogo.

Still, I suppose it’s a good catchphrase. At least it got my attention – not that I’m a prospective customer mind you, just someone in awe of the precise imprecision of the English language and its many dialects.

While I’m on the subject, after two-and-a-bit years here in the US, I’m still trying to get my head around interviewees on teevee news clips being blessed. You know the sort of thing: there’s a close-up of ‘Shaken Resident’ who saw – or thinks he did – a meteor landing in the next county but three where it demolished a derelict tobacco barn. “I’m feelin’ blessed,” says Shaken Resident, “that I warn’t standin’ in that thar barn when whutivver you said it wuz hit ‘er.” College basketball stars and their coaches are blessed almost every time they’re interviewed: “Well I know we got beat 55 to nil, but we’re blessed that the team bus wasn’t in an auto wreck on the way to the game, otherwise it might’ve been a lot worse. Yessir, a lot worse.”

Okay, that’s here in the US and I’m a great believer in everyone on earth being allowed their own accent and idiom without suffering ridicule or condemnation but strike me pink, there was worse yet to come.

A week or so ago, I’m running the official editorial eye and <Track Changes> over a piece about a camel-trekking adventurer for the Australian magazine that still retains me when, spare me days, the writer tells me he’s been ”blessed by all the people” he met along the way. Was he in Australia’s central deserts I wondered, or time-travelling in the Negev around the time of John the Baptist and those other hallucinating, malnourished ascetics? Or did he, I wondered, watch too much teevee – the commercial networks in Oz being fond of hanging on the coat-tails of their US counterparts.

Is this a relatively new expression? I don’t recall coming across it in the American literature I’ve read or in taped interviews with the musicians I admire. ‘Well, I’m blessed’ as an expression of mild astonishment and ‘I haven’t heard a blessed word from her in years’ to show genteel exasperation have been around in Australia – and I suspect the US also – since JC played half back for Jerusalem. Artists, too, have always been blessed with a talent, but it seems to me that implying you’ve been the recipient of beneficial interference from your deity because a meteor didn’t defy the laws of nature and deviate from its course to squash you flat as a tack is stretching it just a teensy bit. Isn’t it?

Or has the Zorro of organized Christianity’s reicht wing, the Sin-finder General, now decided that to claim something as just sheer good luck is, like Darwin’s finches, a blasphemy?

Oh, and before I shoot through: that bloke in Miichigan; come to think of it, he’d also have to be something of a groom whisperer, wouldn’t he, to get away with it?

Perhaps I’d better have another look at my thesaurus, though as Porkypine might say: “Woss in ’er fer me barrin’ words?”

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Frank Povah

Frank Povah

Arriving in the USA in late 2008, Frank Povah moved to Stamping Ground, Kentucky in mid 2009. Passionate about the written and spoken word and constantly bewildered by non-verbs and neo-nouns, Frank trained as a typesetter - though he has worked at many things - and later branched out into proofreading, writing and editing. For many years he has been copy editor, consultant and columnist with a prestigious Australian quarterly along with running his own editorial and typesetting business. His other interests are many and include traditional music, especially that of the south, folklore, natural history, and pigeons.