Friday, December 12, 2008

General overuse of the word "the"

Back when we were city slickers and used to visit Dennis's hometown, Small Town Oklahoma, I was always amused at some of the horrible grammar quaint colloquialisms commonly used by the locals.

(Now don't get me wrong. I LOVE the lilting sound of a good Southern drawl. I have lived my entire adult life in the South and would not live anywhere else. Everything you've heard about Southern warmth and hospitality is true, and one of my goals in life is to be a true Southern lady. Yes, I grew up Northern, but I was wooed by, and then ran as fast as I could to the altar with, a Southern man, after all. Or as we say here, "Suthun mayun." There was something pleasing, comforting - almost as much as chicken fried steak or biscuits and gravy - about the velvety way in which he first whispered, "Ah love you.")

Here in Small Town Texas, I'm learning things are not much different. I've come to expect the usual abuses, such as the word "ain't" (not to be confused with the Southern version of "can't," which is pronounced "cain't"); the use of double negatives ("I ain't got no gase in mah core," (translation: I don't have any gas in my car); and the use of "them" as a subjective personal pronoun, often paired with the word "there," as in, "Them thar critters has been gittin' in mah dawg's food!" (translation: Those critters have been getting in my dog's food!).

Perhaps the only thing that really gets to me is the almost universal inability to use the past participle correctly, as in, "I ain't never ATE so much in all mah lahf." (Translation: "I have never eaten so much in all my life!"). OOOH, it's like fingernails on the proverbial chalkboard of this Words Girl's internal grammar archive.

Of course, grammar (the murdering of which my children understand is, and NEVER will be, acceptable, no matter how deep in the back woods we live) is only a small part of the overall picture of Small Town speech (or "pitcher" as folks would say here). I'm happy to report that the right stuff IS being taught in our schools, although even under the best of circumstances, there's just not much you can do about the drawl.

But even when one does have to look past some language irregularities here, I must say I find Small Town's way of speaking rather charming.

There's the way people say Thanksgiving (it's not ThanksGIVING, it's THANKSgiving) or insurance (not inSURance; it's INsurance). The way it's a RED light, not a stoplight. You're not "going to"; you're "fixin' to." Or the way people's Moms are "Mother," or "Mama."

Another thing is how people give directions. Now, when we lived in Big Suburb, we gave directions like this (please note: these are fictitious street names. Please do not try to Mapquest them to find out where I used to live):

"Take Highway 68 to George Street. Take a left and go three blocks to First Street. We are the fourth house on the left."

Here in Small Town, this is how people give directions:

"Take the highway and turn north at the Quick Mart. When you pass the McDonald's, go 1.2 more miles and turn west at the Old Miller place. Cross the railroad tracks and go past the pond, and you'll see our red barn on the left."

In addition to the vagueness, please note the general overuse of the word "the" in the above set of directions. This is absolutely one of my favorite Small-Town-isms.

I used to notice this when we'd visit family in Oklahoma. People would say, "I'll meet you at the Burger King." Or, "Call me when you get off the interstate." Or, "He's waiting for you at the Walmart."

I always thought that was so funny. Near Big Suburb, there were several interstates, so we had to give the name (or number) of which one to take. THE interstate? Hahaha.

And why not just say, "I'll meet you at Burger King?" Well, DUH, it's because there is only ONE Burger King, so it's THE Burger King!

Ah, yes. I'm learning.

So today I'll go grocery shopping at THE Brookshire's, and maybe I'll take Ruthie-4 out for a treat at THE McDonald's.

Because I might run into some of the nicest people I've ever met who live here, and besides, Ah ain't never ate such good french frahs.


Julie said...

You are a hoot!!! I love southern speak. Wish I could join you in small town America!!!

Unknown said...

This made me mom is notorious for giving directions like...turn left at the end of the fence row with the forked oak tree...I'm like, what happens when the tree gets chopped down, and really, in rural America, WHICH FENCE ROW??

Unknown said...

I think you are making fun of us sutherners! At least where you are they say The Wal Mart rather than The WalMarts or The Krogers.

I must admit I start most of my sentences with "You reckon...."

Like"You reckon it is gonna snow?"

Misti said...

I got such a kick out of your post. I married a small town Oklahoma man & after living the the Big City, we got transferred to small town OK. I used to cringe when I heard people say something that wasn't grammatically correct. I would pray that my children would NOT sound like they were raised in the sticks!!! But,if they talk like that but have the heart of the "typcial" small town Joe, I will be happy!

Thanks for the laugh! :)

Maureen said...

This brought a smile to my face! You are so funny. We have often thought about moving to North Carolina, but I was always afraid my kids would end up talking like that!! But, you are right there is nothing like Southern Hospitality no matter how they talk their hearts speak such kindess.

I am originally from New York. When my family gets together for dinner its- pass the butta, not butter, or pak the car, not park the car . I love different accents it is so interesting to listen to. :)

E. Tyler Rowan said...

"The WalMart" is my favourite thing to say to grate my hubby's nerves. LOL. (I am with you, though, in the proper use of grammar. Improper grammar makes my skin crawl.) :)

Tammi said...

This gave me a great giggle. I'm guilty of yalls, aints and fixin tos.

I would love to live in a small town. We are looking to buy a house in a semi-small town but for now we live in South Big Town. THE Big Town. Austin.

I completely agree, I just love the way small towns are. I'm also insisting my kids always call me Mama. :)

Anonymous said...

haha so funny. i didn't know people actually talked like that. i'm from northern california, but people in southern california refer to the freeways as 'the 405', so when they come visit i seem to want to tell them they need to take 'the 880'.

Sheila said...

Did anyone mention Wal-Mark? I'm always thinking, where did you get the 'k'? :) I don't live in small town Oklahoma anymore, but my family does and I go visit. It's funny, but even growing up there I didn't want to sound like that. It bothered me even though I was born and raised there. However, it is amazing how everyone helps everyone else. It's not like that in bigger cities. You seldom even know that someone else needs help. I couldn't go back, but I do appreciate many of the good things about it.

Katherine@Raising Five said...

Sheila, I'm cracking up! I thought Wal-Mark was just a Grandma Betty thing! But she grew up in LA, so I guess that's not just a Southern-ism. Yes, indeed, where did they get the "k?" =)

Anonymous said...

That is a great post. I'm not from Texas but we live here now and have been here 2 and a half years. I'm wondering when we move to Virginia next summer (Air Force family!) when we'll first say "Fixin' To" and how people in Va. will look at us!

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

Hi again, Katherine! I am so excited about email updates - now I'll never miss a post. :)

Anyway, I loved this reflection. I grew up in Small Town Oklahoma and it never occurred to me not to say THANKSgiving. I chuckled when I read your directions-giving example because that is EXACTLY how I would give directions and have never thought twice about it.

Now, having said that, my children will be raised in the proper knowledge and execution of the English language, insofar as it is possible here, by me, their Mama.

Beck said...

Haha! We have our own accent here, like Canadian Sarah Palin's. My house is still called after the people who owned it 40 YEARS ago!

Etta said...

I have to tell you, I could hardly read this without cringing. And I grew up in Arkansas. I just cain't hardly stand it a'tall. Small Town Texas grammar makes me cry. :0

Becca~CapturingSimpleJoys said...

Love love this! Having grown up in Arkansas with a large number of relatives in North Carolina this all just made me smile!