It is so interesting to me to hear our English language spoken in so many different ways. You would think that because we are all Americans, our dialect and accents would be the same. That’s what I also thought about all five of my children, too, since they all came from the same parents. However, after I thought about how entirely different I am from my seven siblings, I realized that the gene pool does get mixed up. I guess it is the same with our native dialect and accents.
A few years ago I had a local excavator explain to me how he was going to cut a “banch” into a hill for a house site. I listened to him, asked him to explain it to me once again, which he did, but I still didn’t get it. Quite honestly, I thought he was speaking French and was surprised that he knew the language! Only later when the property owner “interpreted” for us did I understand that the excavator was going to “bench” the hillside to prevent erosion. “Ohhh,” I said, “Now I get it.”
I have been reading Bill Bryson’s book entitled At Home and am really enjoying it. Author Bryson goes all over a home and gives you the history of the room(s) and the accessories usually contained in them. I have learned that chairs were rare up until the 1300’s. All that was used to sit on, he writes, was “bancs”, which is French for plain benches and is derived from the French word banquet. So, in retrospect, I realize my excavator friend was speaking French when he told me his plan of action for that hillside a few years ago.
An East Tennessee phrase that I really did misunderstand when I first moved here is, “I wouldn’t care to.” That is the answer I got when I asked a friend if she would drop one of my kids off at home after soccer practice. Oh, that answer took me by surprise! I asked her if I had done something wrong, and she just looked at me as if I were the strange one. How did I know that “I wouldn’t care to” in East Tennessee means the same as “I don’t mind” where I grew up.
A phrase I have always used is the southern “ya’ll.” Here in East Tennessee, though, you will hear some folks say “you’ens” instead of ya’ll. One day I was in the BP Service Station where many of our unelected and unofficial but very important WearsValley volunteer government leaders meet to drink coffee and solve the day’s problems early each morning. One of them asked me that day if I was going to wind up selling all the properties in WearsValley to “outsiders.”
I thought about it for a second and then answered, “Boys, I bet that one day there are going to be more of “us’ens” than there is of “you’ens.” Truly that day is getting closer and closer as so many people discover “The Jewel of the Smokies” (aka WearsValley).
The boys at the BP also mistakenly took me for a city slicker for quite a while. I enlightened them on my family history: 8th child of sharecroppers—all 8 born at home with no doctor, got our first indoor toilet when I was 12, picked cotton by hand, and was always happy to get a pair of shoes to start to school in October after the cotton was picked. I don’t know if that gained me any respect with the boys, but my upbringing has hopefully helped me to become a better person.
The only difference in most of the locals and me is the topography and the nomenclature. In Mississippi where I grew up it is flat; here it is mountainous. There I would be called a “redneck”; here I am a “hillbilly.”
As the saying goes, “You say “toe may tuh”, I say “to mah tuh”. “You say “po tey tuh”, I say “po tah tuh.” No matter. They both still taste the same. Happy 4th of July to my fellow rednecks and hillbillies. I hope that you are as proud to be an American and especially an East Tennessean as I am.