The late, great humorist Lewis Grizzard said the difference between the two words naked and nekkid is that if you are naked you aren't wearing any clothes and if you're nekkid you aren't wearing any clothes and are up to no good.
I went to Southern California recently on vacation and was hoping they understand enough of what I am saying to bring me a cold beer and something to eat. After all, they do have Southern in their name. And I didn't seem to have any problems there.
When my friend David of L.A. kids me about the Southern I speak, I say, "Yes, we don't say, yawl come, dude." He says they don't say dude any more and I couldn't find any remnant of the dude era. I say, "Well we do say yawl and it means simply "all of you," whether it is one or a hundred you are staring at.
I was born in the South and have lived my whole life here and so I guess I speak pretty good Southern and I endeavor to teach others to speak it or at least understand enough of it to enjoy the region.
For example, "Yawl come and visit sometime" means don't come near my house, but if you do I am going to welcome you with open arms and pretend I really did want you to come.
In the South, we stand in line and not online. We are always fixin' to do something rather than preparing to do something. Fixin's is also a "mess" of good eating, as in "Give me some of that barbecue with all the fixin's."
But as good as I am at talking (and I should be since I do it all the time), I still encounter great Southern phrases and try to add them to my list of growing internal Southern Dictionary.
My mother, a good Southern girl raised out in the country so far from town "the sun set between our house and town," would say: "Saturday was a week ago we went to visit your aunt," Meaning not the most recent Saturday but the other Saturday.
A redneck neighbor kid, whose mother made a pot of pinto beans and warm cornbread so good it made your stomach smile, lived near me as a kid and said "dope" for soft drinks. Let's go down to the store and buy a couple of dopes. He also said "window light" for window pane. I was playing baseball and hit a ball through the neighbor's window pane.
I do find when some people come to Atlanta and they don't understand what I am saying, they just nod and then I realize they didn't know what I said. So I rephrase it and say it again.
Speaking is an imprecise art. When you are doing it, it makes sense, partly because you have the facial expressions, hand gestures and other surroundings to make sense out of it. That is why it is so hard for bad writers writing novels to make them sound true because the speaking is too formal, too stilted. Great Southern writers like the late Eudora Welty are famed for capturing the tone, the cadence, the brittleness of the way we talk.
If you haven't read some of her great short stories like "The Petrified Man" or Why I Live At The P.O." you really must treat yourself. And I find that if you read them out loud you get to hear the Southern speaking resonating in your ear. One character in the beauty shop is telling another about this strange acting character and she says he was kind of funny. The other woman says, "You mean funny haha or funny strange?" Now isn't that great writing? I saw Ms. Welty on several programs talking about writing and reading some of her works. Every Southern woman should hope they age with the dignity she did. She said she used to clip little stories of strange happenings from the paper, no matter how small, and would use them for fodder in her writing.
I am of two minds. I love the diversity we are getting in the South now, but I would hate to see the great way of talking and the great odd way of doing things go away. When I hear a group of new Hispanic residents speaking I strain to hear if they say something like "Mas cerveza por favor, yawl"
Somehow I don't think tacos and grits are going to be sharing any plates in the South any time soon.
Bob Paslay is editor of the News Daily and Daily Herald. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753 Ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .