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    true confessions

    How to speak Southern

    by | 6 | Aug 4, 2016

    Okay, get the handcuffs ready. I’m about to confess:

    By day, I am Robert Lamb, famous author of great novels. No, wait! Make that “relatively unknown author whose books were best-sellers in certain quarters,” namely my mother’s bridge club.

    But by night I am, by design, mind you, the equally unknown Y'all Ain't From Around Here, Are Ya?author whose nom de plume is (drum roll, please) Cooper Riverbridge. (Note to all Ivy League grads out there: “nom de plume” means pen name.)

    In 2009, disguised as Cooper Riverbridge, I wrote and published “Y’all Ain’t From Around Here, Are Ya?” The subtitle was “How To Talk Like a South Carolinian,” and the book was illustrated by friend Rob Barge, (who then lived in Columbia but who since has deemed it wise to retreat to Georgia). A statute of limitations thing, if I recall. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Rob.)

    What brought on this confession? Well, I remembered the other day that the first thing Dick, my new neighbor, said to me when we moved to Litchfield Country Club and he heard my Southern drawl was, “I’m from New York. You won’t hate me, will you?”

    Little did he know that he was addressing the very man, perhaps the only man in these parts, who could help preserve his Yankee hide. At the time, I could not blow my cover, for the book was setting new records in low sales. But that was then and this is now. Here’s the book’s brief introduction:

    “Folks in South Carolina are known for many things – firing on Fort Sumter to start the ‘War of Northern Aggression,’ a curious obsession with beach music, a strong affinity for mustard-based barbeque, a fanatical devotion to college football, and their peculiar attraction to a dish called shrimp & grits. But above all, South Carolinians are known for one major attribute: they talk funny.”

    My little book was aimed at helping people like Dick understand the language in this neck of the woods and to avoid that damning question posed to all – and they are many – who came here from north of the Mason-Dixon Line: “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?”

    Herewith a sampling:

    • ACKRUT – A not quite accurate pronunciation.
    • BAD to – Strongly inclined or strongly prone to, as in “He was bad to steal chickens.”
    • CARO-LEEN-IANS – Natives of the state as pronounced by a former governor who couldn’t pronounce the name of the natives of his own state. (We won’t reveal his name, but his initials were Carroll Campbell.)
    • CHEER – Something you sit in if you are a South Carolinian. Everybody else prefers a chair.
    • DILL – To South Carolinians this is an agreement; to everybody else it’s a pickle.
    • FEM – another word for movie.
    • FIXIN’ to – Preparing; getting ready, as in “I’m fixin’ to go to the store,” which is often pronounced “stow.”
    • LIBERRY – A storehouse for books as pronounced by a former University of South Carolina president.
    • RUBBA – A word that around here has lost its ‘lasticity.’

    The list in the book runs through the alphabet, but you get the idea.

    For clarification to newcomers, I might add that Charleston’s Ravenel Bridge replaced the old Cooper River Bridge, from which I purloined the pen name.

    And before you ask, I was born in Aiken, South Carolina, and grew up in Augusta, Georgia.

    Save

    ###
    Robert Lamb

    Robert Lamb

    I grew up in Augusta, Ga., where I attended Boys' Catholic High. After a stint in the Navy, I attended the University of Georgia, majoring in English (Class of '61). I began my (wholly unexpected) journalism career on the old Augusta Herald, an evening paper, and went to work for The Constitution in, I think, 1976. I left in Sept. '82 to write The Great American Novel. That goal has proved remarkably elusive, but my first attempt (Striking Out, in 1991) was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award and my second (Atlanta Blues, in 2004) contended for an Edgar Award. My latest novel won no honors but might well get me nominated for a hanging. Titled A Majority of One, it is about a clash between religion and the Constitution over book-banning in a small Georgia town. I've also published a collection of short stories and poems: Six of One, Half Dozen of Another. Before retirement, I taught creative writing and American literature at the University of South Carolina and its Honors College, and feature writing in its School of Journalism. I maintain a now-and-then blog at boblamb.wordpress.com and I walk my dog on the beach a lot at Pawleys Island, S.C.

     

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    • Richard Eisel

      Good piece, sir (“suh”). As a lover of the Southern dialect (which in truth is plural, for there are many Southern dialects) and language, I was delighted to read it. Loved the brief note about South Carolina’s mustard-based barbecue (BAH-be-cue”). While I prefer North Carolina-style vinegar-based barbecue, it’s good to remember what someone wiser than me once said: “Barbecue is like sex: even when it’s bad, it’s good.” (Not saying South Carolina barbecue is bad; far from it. It’s just that everyone has his or her preference…all of which are good.)

    • Sheila Morris

      Good one, Bob! Who knew that you are the infamous Cooper Riverbridge?? You have been hiding your Humor Light under a bushel for too long -- let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!
      P.S. I wish you would add your Red Letter Press publishing to your bio -- your publishing company meant the world to me!!

    • Hey, my name is Cooper Riverbridge and, truth be known, I invented Robert Lamb, not the other ’round. So there. Just sayin’.

    • Gail

      Oh, how this made me laugh. Reminded me of the time I was giving some Girl Scout training to volunteers in North Carolina. I was “fresh off the boat” from my home in Indiana where I had married a Marine now stationed at Camp Lejeune. I had their rapt attention for about 15 minutes and then asked if there were any questions. “Where yew from?” they said, almost in unison. They hadn’t heard a word I said, just how I said it. Then there’s the time I pulled into a filling station and asked to have the engine checked. The man raised the hood and said, “Crank ‘er up and let’er go.” It took me a while to figure out he meant for me to start the engine. Your article brought back many, many memories. Thanks!

    • Diann Curcio

      You’ve written a quaint piece full of wit and charm Bob! Errr, or maybe it was Cooper.

    • Tom Poland

      Super. Somehow I missed this one.

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