It is easy to blame television for a lot of things. We have seen many things that were once taboo become acceptable because we saw them happen on TV.
Popular names for children can be tied to popular characters on TV shows.
Another thing television has done is influence our speech patterns. In the 1990s, comedian Martin Lawrence popularized the term “Talk to the hand,” which is a sassy way of saying “I’m not listening.” There is also the two-syllable pronunciation of “girl” that has reached epidemic use for a variety of situations.
But the main thing that television has done is homogenize our regional dialects.
Yes, there are still very regional sounds, like folks from New York, New Jersey or Massachusetts who have unique terms and pronunciations. New Jersey itself is often referred to by natives as “Joy-zee.”
We still have our Southern accent, but what is missing is that great “Old South” way of speaking: The kind of rolling lilt that is distinguished by the pronunciation of the letter “r” as more of an “h.”
“Carl and Martha drove their car to the church on Thursday” becomes “Cahl and Mah-tha drove their cah to the chuch on Thuhs-dee.”
One of the great spokesmen of this dialect is Larry Walker, an attorney and member of the Board of Regents from Perry. In fact, when Larry says “Perry,” it is almost a three-syllable word. But it rolls off of his tongue in an almost poetic way.
Television has made Southern-speak a contrived and unbelievable thing. It was never more evident than in the early days of shows like “The Andy Griffith Show” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Listen to the first year of either of those and it is far different from their final seasons.
It could have turned out differently on a classic like “Gone with the Wind,” if it were not for the work of one Georgian.
Susan Myrick was a columnist for the Macon Telegraph and was a friend of Margaret Mitchell. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Mitchell was worried that her novel would be given the stereotypical Hollywood treatment and pushed the producers to hire Myrick as a consultant.
According to the telegram sent from Selznick Studios, Myrick was to be the “Arbiter of manners and customs of times as well as (to) tutor members of cast both white and Negro in accent, (according to the) characteristics of each class and time.”
Myrick also lobbied for such correctness as eliminating a scene where cotton was being chopped in April and another scene where Scarlett O’Hara was carrying a dish of olives, something they didn’t grow on Tara. She lost the battle over the scene where Scarlett was wearing a bonnet inside the armory where she danced with Rhett Butler.
A friend of mine told me Myrick did succeed in getting the wardrobe department to change Scarlett’s low-cut dress that would have been improper for a woman in the 1860s.
My friend, Mark Green, who is minister of music at First Baptist Church on Green Street, is constantly trying to get choir members (including me) to not sing the “r” in Lord, which is a oft-used term in church music. He wants it to be “Lahd.” It tunes up better.
Well, the Lahd knows we could use a little better speech, Southern or otherwise. In terms of success, I think we are talking to the hand.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.