GPS Lexicon

“I’m serious as a heart attack, she was about to fall out!”

When we moved back to North Carolina and I started high school there was a language barrier, and the previous statement rang especially odd to my ears.  I spoke English, the same root language as my new classmates, but there was a definite learning curve to, shall we say, the fringe on top.Colloquialisms (I’m shocked; I spelled it right the first try.  Lord love a spell check.).  The local color of our language.  It’s y’all versus you guys (Mom’s from Jersey, I use both interchangeably).  It’s hind end, versus hiney, versus butt, versus bum (It’s how the folks on my Dad’s side of the family say it in Pittsburgh).  It’s tennis shoe versus sneaker.

When my sister-in-law from Perquimans County was cranky, she’d later apologize for being “ill”.  And people from that area also call chicken and dumplings, “chicken pot pie”; or maybe her family is just kinda “quirky”.

An illustration from the New Orleans novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy O’Toole.  If you haven’t read it, I urge you to do so.

Linguists used to be able to tell by your speech where you were born and raised.  In New Orleans they had completely different accents and word usage within blocks of each other.  There was one neighborhood where everybody had both a New York and Southern accent, with a soupçon of French.

In Baltimore the natives had an odd mélange of Southern, Northern, and a dash of almost British.  And you probably won’t have a waitress call you “Shug”, to her you are “Hon”.  And their hometown has two syllables, not three, as in Ball’more.

The cast of the first season of Homicide: Life on the Streets.  The best show ever on television, and based in Baltimore.

Pittsburgh, my dad’s hometown has a completely unique accent and vocabulary.  I can always pick it out when I hear it.  I have surprised the heck out of many strangers in grocery stores and malls.  But it’s so very distinctive that once you hear it, you can always identify it.

Folks from the upper Midwest speak with a unique inflection—think Sarah Palin and the movie Fargo.  It comes from the large number of immigrants from Nordic nations.  They also have a vocabulary that’s all theirs.  Don’t ask your new workmate where the water fountain is; they call it a “bubbler”, which I must say is way more festive.  If you’re ever at a potluck in Minnesota, there’s no casseroles, but plenty of “hot dishes”. Anyone who’s ever listened to a JFK speech or a bad imitation of one knows that from Massachusetts northward people have a distinctive way of talking.  They also have unique pronunciations—Worcester becomes Wooster, Grosvenor?  That “S” is silent.

If you’re hungry and order a sub, you’ll get funny looks, but no sandwich.  Ask for a grinder.  If you want an after-dinner drink, head to a “spa” (corner store), or a “packie” a liquor store.  It’ll be wicked good.A visit to the Southwest could require the occasional use of a translator.  If there’s word of a haboob in the area, it’s not a scarf, a body part, or a bird.  It’s a dust storm that is so massive it can be seen from space, so go inside.  Norteño is a style of music from Northern Mexico that is dangerously catchy.

And California?  Some (but not all) residents really do sound like surfer dudes that have spent a bit too much time in the sun.But the sad truth is that all these distinctive words and accents are disappearing faster than hushpuppies at a fish fry.  Because distance and unfamiliarity are dissolving due to connectivity and the migratory nature of the population, all those interesting geographic differences could soon be a thing of the past.

And the very thought of that makes me tore slam up.Thanks for your time.

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