A while back, a transplanted Yankee sat down beside me at a luncheon and proceeded to explain what had compelled her to uproot herself from generations of Northern influence and move South.
"I was visiting a friend here and one of her neighbors had stopped by to visit with her 3-year-old in tow," the woman recalled. "The little girl started to act cranky, so her mother leaned down and said softly but firmly, ‘Hush.’ I decided right then and there that I wanted to live here."
I looked puzzled and tilted my head. "I don’t understand."
The woman smiled. "I had never heard the word ‘hush’ used like that in my life but it was such a sweet sounding word and such a lovely way to tell the child to be quiet." She stopped and laughed. "I was used to hearing, ‘Shut up!’"
I’m always enthralled to hear of words that we regularly use which are unfamiliar to others. It had never occurred to me that "hush" was one of those words. After all, it is a favorite of Southern mothers everywhere.
"You never heard the word ‘hush’ before?" I was disbelieving.
"No, not when it was used in a way of discipline. But that’s all it took to move me here."
I can see where she’s coming from. After all, I thought "shut up" were bad words as equally evil as any of the no-no words until I was in the fifth or sixth grade. I remember once in the second grade, the teacher distributed the little sugary, pastel-colored hearts with phrases written on them for Valentine’s Day and I got one that said ‘shut up.’ My face turned red. I couldn’t believe my teacher had given me a piece of candy with dirty words written on it. I went straight to the waste basket and threw it away.
Oh, such sweet innocence to recall.
Mama’s strongest rebuke when one of us had spoken too much, disagreed too vehemently or carried on with too much harshness was always, "Now, hush. I don’t wanna hear another word about it." If one of us continued on, she’d toss that crooked little forefinger toward us and repeat very strongly, "I said, ‘hush’ and I mean it."
And, usually, we hushed.
I never heard Daddy silence us with anything stronger than a stern, no-nonsense look or "Let’s keep the racket down."
If we disagreed with him or were arguing too strongly for something he opposed, he’d say, "Now, you can just hush your mouth right now. You ain’t talkin’ to ol’ Ralph about it. I’m here to laid down the law, little girl, and don’t think for one minute that I won’t do it."
I see the woman’s point now that I take time to think about it. That’s a nice way for parents to discipline their children.
Another nice sounding Southern word is "fuss." It sounds so much nicer than "fight." Like "hush," it’s just a sweet sounding word for disagreeing.
A while back, a friend and I were on opposite viewing sides of how a particular company does business. We had both shopped with the company and I thought they were masterful in their craftsmanship. He did not. We weren’t arguing, just expressing our different experiences. I stood my ground and he stood his.
Finally, very kindly, he said, "Ronda, I’m not trying to fuss with you. I’m just telling you what I know."
Oh, how many times have I heard Mama say, "You kids quit that fussin’ right now. Just hush." Good advice for Americans everywhere since discord has become a national pastime.
Doesn’t "fussing" sound nicer and less provoking than "fighting" or "arguing"? It echoes with sweeter, gentler chimes. And come to think of it, it echoes of sweeter, gentler times, too.
Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of several books, including "What Southern Women Know About Faith."
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