How to speak Southern
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 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.