Thinking About Words

Linda’s recent post about “fiddlesticks” (the strongest word I ever heard my Granny use) got me to thinking about the words that were acceptable (and not acceptable) when I was a kid.  I recently finished re-reading As I Lay Dying and it brought the subject to mind again, reminding me of how much of our regional vocabulary has been lost (for better or worse).

When I was a boy we used words like “shoot” and “durn,” as in “Shoot! I dropped it.” or “The durn thing is stuck.” To express frustration we used a word that sounded like “Gah-Lee” (I have no idea how to represent phonetically our “Gah”).  So for example, upon being told that we couldn’t go to the store, we might respond “Gah-Lee!”  (imagine the “gah” being drawn out for a syllable or two and in a whiny kind of way).  I suppose our word somehow related to the word “golly” but we never used it in the way I would imagine “golly” to be used.  We also said “daggone” (but pronounced more like “dah-gone”), but never as an adjective.  It was usually used in the way folks might say something like “Wow.”  

We never used the words “lie” or “liar.”  We used the word “story” in it’s place.  So we said things like, “That’s a story,” “He’s telling a story,” or “You’re a story-teller.”  (And we might get punished for saying things like that.)

In those days we had breakfast, dinner and supper.  Lunch was something that only happened at school.

Pants were britches and jeans were dungarees.

I could list many more such examples.

Those words and that way of speaking just faded away, erased largely by television I think.

When I arrived at college in 1978 I brought all my fixings, yonders, reckons and y’alls with me.  But I quickly began to shed them.  My roommate was from Virginia Beach. He found my accent and vocabulary amusing, which caused me to find them embarrassing.  Not long after the semester began I asked him to cut out the lights.  He roared in laughter.  After that, I didn’t use that expression any more.

In college I replaced my durns, shoots and daggones with the more common words from which they were likely derived.  I replaced them with gusto.  And I added some ugly words that I don’t recall ever having heard in my childhood, but which seem as common among young people today as gah-lee was among us.  That was a poor transaction.

These days I don’t care to hide my accent any more.  What’s left of it shall remain.  And now I use words that are helpful and sensible, whether they are commonly used elsewhere or not.   I do try to be a little more careful with how I speak around folks who aren’t used to it. But for the most part, I no longer feel any pressure to conform my speech to some alien standard.

There are some things about our way of speaking back then that I don’t miss but I do wonder if we haven’t surrendered too much.

Feeling nostalgic this morning.