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Glazer: True South is one of many different tongues

POSTED: November 15, 2013 1:00 a.m.

Few things irritate me more than hearing a non-Southerner try to imitate a Southern accent. No man has gotten it right since Gregory Peck in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” No woman has ever gotten it right. Need an example? Kyra Sedgwick in “The Closer.” Case closed.

There was a lot to irritate me earlier this week when the dating website cupid.com published the results of its latest poll. It revealed what we children of the South have always known: The most attractive accent is the Southern one. And not just by a little, either. By a whopping 36.5 percent. Yee haw.

So I was treated to hearing my morning news anchors sound like nincompoops as they mangled the word “y’all.” That seemed to be the only Southernism they could come up with on the fly.

It turns out more men are charmed by the Southern drawl than women: 45 percent of the men surveyed picked the Southern accent; only 28 percent of women chose it.

The next most attractive accent was New York. That was welcome news to my Brooklyn-born husband.

Then came Western, New England (I’m sure the folks in Boston were wicked pleased), New Jersey and Canadian. Midwestern and Mid-Atlantic brought up the rear. I’m not sure what a Mid-Atlantic accent sounds like but it must be right up there with fingernails on a blackboard.

Of course, this survey is far from complete. Everyone knows there is no one definitive Southern accent. Heck, Southern Appalachian sounds nothing at all like the New Orleans “Yat” accent (so named because of the phrase “Where y’at?”) or Mississippi Delta or Florida Cracker. Really. That’s what linguists call the South Georgia-North Florida accent.

Michael Henry said it best in his Facebook post: “There is a lot of variety within this huge region. ... Central Texans sound nothing at all like Virginians, and Piedmont South Carolinians sound nothing at all like Southern Kentuckians. In my 60 years of hearing ‘accents’ from all over the South, I would have to say the mellifluous Old Atlantans had the most beautiful speech of all (some parts of small town north Florida, very similar). It’s very rare to hear it anymore. ... I wish I had a recording of my Aunt Mary, who was raised in Sanford, Fla. She could read the phone book and make you weep, it was so lovely!”

In 2011, The History Channel broadcast a special entitled “You Don’t Know Dixie.” It was supposedly an exploration of the South and its influence on American culture. I, for one, was insulted that they felt the need to include subtitles in interviews with some of the more backwoodsy characters. That old moonshiner sounded just fine to me.

My roots run deep into the mountains of North Georgia. I remember my grandparents calling a blouse a “waist” and a creek a “crick.” They used words and phrases like “yonder” and “fixin’ to;” “hollow” became “holler” and “tomato” became “tomater.” I took these idiosyncrasies for granted until years after my grandparents were gone and I discovered they were actually using speech straight from Elizabethan English, spoken by their Scots-Irish forebears and preserved by the isolation of the hills.

North Georgia writer Candice Dyer, who shares similar linguistic DNA, wrote, “I sound like the love child of Loretta Lynn and NASCAR’s Bill Elliott. I was told by an editor that I sounded too Southern to interview Jimmy Carter.” Wow. That’s like being too drunk to fish.

I guess as a result of being raised by parents with two very different linguistic styles (even after 20 years, it still rankles me when my husband says “roon” instead of “ruin”) our daughters have no definable accents of their own. Either one would fit right in at an anchor desk anywhere in the country.

They may not have the drawl, but, happily, they’ve maintained the idioms. I smile a little smile when I hear my Washington, D.C.-based child add “bless her heart” to a description of an acquaintance’s misdeeds, or when Rachel instructs a friend to “mash” a button on the computer or complain that the scarf she’s knitting is all “cattywampus.”

At the end of the day it’s nice to know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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