Saturday, October 8, 2005

When Ugly Isn't Ugly

I recently took an online test for American dialects. I figured since I have lived over half my life in the South I would end up with dispersed results. I was not disappointed. Living here has definitely altered my speech patterns, my accent, and the language I use.

Unless you have ever traveled outside your region, you may not realize that people speak differently just about everywhere you go. I discovered this at an early age. On our way to Florida for a family vacation, my father got lost. My father, having wandered for quite awhile without giving in to asking directions, finally decided he was tired of aimlessly driving. We were in South Georgia when my father gave up and pulled over. An amiable man sauntered up to the driver’s side, and Dad asked for the way back to the main road.

As soon as that man opened his mouth, I knew we were in trouble. I looked at my mother who had an unreadable look on her face. Since she was a model of decorum, I followed her example, and settled back in my seat and plastered on a shy smile. Meanwhile, my father, listening as hard as he could, would occasionally make noises like Porky Pig while nodding his head. Turning our vehicle to head out of the station, my Dad yelled a, “Thank you very much” out the window. My mother gave a sideways glance in Dad’s direction and softly asked if he knew where he was going. My father burst out laughing and replied he had not understood a word that the man had spoken. “But he was sure nice and I know he was trying to be helpful.” my father added. I learned you could be a foreigner in your own land.

A couple years after Hubby and I were married, we lived in a small apartment in Hendersonville, North Carolina. A gracious farming family from church let us use a patch of their land to plant some tomatoes and veggies. I usually would drive over to their farm early in the morning, while the air was cool, to weed my little garden. After I finished working, I would go in and have a cup of coffee with my friends. I never had to worry if anyone was awake yet, because Larry always had to get up around four in the morning to milk the cows. We would sit there and chat while the children began to get up and make their way down to the breakfast table. One particular day I was privy to the following conversation.

“Larry, didja see Dorcas on your way down?”

“Yeah - sure did. She’s bein’ real ugly this mornin’.”

“Yeah. She was that way yesterday too!”

A couple of heads shaking accompanied this. I sat there dumbfounded. I could not believe these people would talk about their daughter this way. To top it off, down the stairs came Dorcas and she looked pretty to me! Imagine my surprise when I discovered that “ugly” could refer to a person’s temperament. I have since learned that this is very different from being beaten with an ugly stick – which can, in fact, refer to facial features. Ya know what I mean?

It was with this same family that I committed one of my major Yankee faux paux. I inadvertently used the word “butt”. I knew I had stepped in it by the expressions on everyone’s faces. They all looked embarrassed and ashamed for me. I later learned that the use of that word is considered crude in many Southern circles and I was given other appropriate words to use. Although, I personally think that saying someone is a pain in the bottom seems to lose some of the intended punch.

Then there is the day I was asked, “With or without?” ‘Splain yourself, Ricky! That’s another story…

Written by: Lillium


Romani Heart said...

That reminds me of the time our landlord refered to someone as being a little "quar." I had to ask Ma what it meant. She says "you know.. odd, a little off." I said "like queer ya mean?" She goes, "No..its QUAR". I'm like, okay, whatever lol.

jen/southgirl said...

My southern roots are very shallow, even though I was born and raise there, and my parents also. There parents were not. So you can imagine I got a good dose of different sayings.

Now when my mom married my stepfather in the late 80's , and I was a teenager. The southern dialect took on a whole new meaning when I met my stepdaddy's family. They were Southern, through and through.

There was saying, until only a few short years ago that I totally misuderstood. I always thought that they were saying "we'll be there directly". It turns out they were saying "we'll be there tirectly." all these years. :)

Dana said...

I grew up with the word "ugly" as well. My mother still uses the term. My husband, yankee that he is, had never heard the term before and thought we were all strange. But then, he always thinks we are strange.

aka_Meritt said...

Yankee's say 'ugly' for bad tempered too. ;) I'm northern Iowa born and I grew up hearing it pretty regularly.

I never thought about it much before actually.

poopie said...

Lord yes, hon. Us southern gals can be REAL ugly when we put our little ole' minds to it!

Steve said...

Oh man, you have hit the proverbial nail on the head here! I love it!!

I've lived in Charlotte for 38 out of 41 years of my life,my parents both being from Philadelphia, so I grew up in a house saying "y'all" when everyone else I was related to was saying "youse". To further complicate matters, I married into a south Louisiana family chocked full of Boudreauxs and LeBlancs, so all traces of what might have been even a small northern accent are now completely gone.

kenju said...

Please 'splain what you mean about "with or without". I can imagine.....but I'd prefer to hear it from you.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Jen, I always heard it as "dreckly" (for directly).

And, yes, "ugly" is a frame of mind, not a slander to one's family tree...