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That Lovely Southern Accent

By Emory Jones
Cleveland, Ga.

I read in the Wall Street Journal no less that a few evidently misguided Southerners are paying good money to learn how to lose their Southern accents.

Now, I could understand spending money to get one, but the other way around? I tell you what! The article quoted an Atlanta fellow caught up in this foolishness as saying, “Well, with a Southern accent, it’s hard to make a good first impression.”

Goodness gracious alive! A good first impression on who? (I know that should be whom, but whom doesn’t hit it hard enough).

I believe the late, great Mr. Lewis Grizzard had it about right when he said, “Anyone who is blessed with a Southern accent and wants to change it ought to be flogged.” I agree from the bottom up.

Sure, we Southerners are a little distinctive about how we use the language, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a melodious, charming and, in my opinion, darn wonderful thing. Why, down here, we’ll name a dog Rooster, and a cat – well, we don’t always name cats – but when we do, it’s usually a humdinger. In fact, I think my grandmother had a cat named Humdinger. Or maybe that was a gun. Heck, we’ll name our cars if you don’t watch us.

We mash elevator buttons instead of pushing them. We make your picture while other folks take it, and to us, every soft drink is a Co-Cola – even if the can says Pepsi. I can see how someone not accustomed to it might be put off the first time one of us offers to carry him or her to the store. (And we can say just about anything, as long as we start or end it with “Bless his heart”).

We like to dress up speech, so we describe spring water as “tooth-cracking cold” and a passed-on possum as “graveyard dead.” We’re a polite people for the most part and “Don’t sass your Mama” are the first words many of us hear. And Elvis was right; “ma’am” and “sir” really do belong behind “yes” and “no.” By the way, we wave a lot too – even if we don’t know you, we’ll wave at you.

Y’all is the word people from “far off,” and especially people from Hollywood, use when they want to imitate us. But after 50 years of counterfeit accents, the movie and television folks still don’t get it that you don’t use y’all when you’re talking to just one person! I’m not sure they even want to get our dialect down. I mean, Julia Roberts is a Georgia girl, but the way they had her talking in Steel Magnolias was downright disturbing, bless her heart.

The folks who know about these things tell me there are actually more than 100 different Southern dialects. I don’t doubt it. We Appalachian mountain folks have our own special twang, and while they sound very pleasant, I think only a Virginian can truly understand another Virginian.

But no matter which Southern accent you have, it puts you in some mighty fine company. Folks like Thomas Jefferson, William Faulkner, Will Rogers, Sergeant York, Billy Graham, George Washington, Charlie Daniels and a lot of cotton farmers, to name a few.

Of course, our speech has undergone changes lately, and the two main reasons for that are AC and TV. The first one took us off the front porch and the second, away from the kitchen table. But that doesn’t mean we’re sounding precisely like the rest of the country. Not yet at least.

So don’t go lettin’ those “accent reduction” courses get your goat. I expect the move to sign up for such foolishness will be about as slow as molasses in January. But if you happen to know someone who’s fixing to take one, well for Heaven’s sake, just let ‘em have at it.

Then maybe they can get a job with the folks who make that Pepsi brand of Co-Cola.

– Emory Jones, Cleveland, Ga.

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