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Commentary: This Southerner is proud of his accent

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William Carter, columnist

William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at wcarterfranklin@aol.com.

“What?!?”  

The lady’s face is scrunched up a bit in concentration, and there is a look of confusion in her eyes. 

I repeat what I’d said, but she shakes her head. 

“I just can’t understand you”, she tells me. “Your accent is too thick.”  

She’s a fairly new co-worker who had transferred in a few weeks prior from another store out west somewhere and had been, I’ve noticed, taking every opportunity since to let the rest of us know how badly she’s been suffering from “culture shock” from the moment she rolled into town. She also giggles a lot during conversations with some of the other people I work with, and then fake apologizes by saying, “I’m sorry, I just can’t get over your Southern accent,” as if that absolves her of her rude behavior. 

I’m more amused than bothered by her weirdly passive/aggressive comments; she’s young, and I get the feeling she’s attempting what she thinks of as humor to get over her nervousness about being alone in a new setting far from home, but, still, I do get frustrated a bit when she treats me as if she’s on the phone with someone in India from Microsoft Technical Support. I’ll give her a pass, though, because I can guarantee it won’t be long before she starts using “y’all” the way God meant for it to be used. 

Besides, I’m from the Deep South, born and raised around some world-class drawlers and g-droppers, and, trust me, I know for a fact I do not have a hard to understand Southern accent by any stretch of the imagination. 

Weirdly, though, just a day or two before my last interaction with the young lady, I’d been reading a series of articles proclaiming how the South is losing its identity. Sadly, I tend to agree, to a point, at least. With all of the out-of-control bulldozing and building and paving going on, it’s only a matter of time before the entire country is indistinguishable from one coast to the other, with nary a red-dirt road, holler, Spanish moss-covered oak, or patch of kudzu left to marvel over. 

If that isn’t disturbing enough, one of the articles focuses on some Southerners, misguided souls, I call them, who are paying good money to take classes on how to learn to disguise, or get rid of altogether, their Southern accents. 

Well … I do declare. 

Before I go any further, I have to make something clear: I am not one of those Southerners whose pickup truck is plastered with “Hell No! I Ain’t Fergittin’!” bumper stickers, nor am I one who would use his own body to put out the flames on a burning Confederate flag. But I am pretty proud of my Southern roots and, in fact, have always considered anyone born north of Macon, Georgia to be — and these are fighting words, I know — a Yankee. At least, that’s what my granddaddy always told me. 

Back to the accents. 

When I was in grade school, left-handed people were considered to be hideously deformed, morally corrupt and feeble-minded. One of my best friends, a lefty, spent the first three years of his educational career with the knuckles of his left hand swollen to the size of medium-sized chihuahuas from them being whacked with a ruler by our teachers every time he tried to write the way God intended for him to write. While it is true he was in fact morally corrupt and feeble-minded, he was also the most creative and artistic among us, and in the fourth grade drew, with a #2 pencil and using his left hand, the first picture of a nekkid lady I’d ever seen that had all of the right things in all of the right places. Or at least I thought so at the time.   

The same applies to Southern accents. While the way we talk may give some of you with the disadvantage of being born not down here a vague sense of superiority, or the impression all of us Southerners are slightly off in the head — well … I’ll have to give you that one — our slow, lyrical speech patterns really only serve to enhance the fact that Southern people are some of the greatest people on the face of the earth. 

This is indisputable, and there is no point in arguing about it. 

The only reason, I believe, our elsewhere-born brothers and sisters laugh at the way we talk is because they’re all envious they can’t claim kin to the region that produced Elvis, Tina Turner, fried okra, cornbread, Truman Capote, neck bones by the pound, Burt Reynolds, “Yes, Ma’am” and “No, Ma’am,” William Faulkner, pecan divinity, Dr. King, the best-lookin’ women in the world, hot summer nights (wink, wink), Atticus Finch, cheese straws, Foghorn Leghorn, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Lewis Grizzard, The Blind Boys, Coca-Cola … excuse me … Co-Cola, #3, my mama and paper funeral-home fans with pictures of Jesus on them, just to name a few things.   

I do, however, apologize for Marjorie Taylor Greene, Marsha Blackburn, certain parts of Florida and Texas, and boiled chitlins. 

The way I figure it, God blessed us with the ability to turn one-syllable words into two, three or even four-syllable words just to alert those less fortunate among us they’re in the presence of greatness. 

A true Southerner, I believe, would rather die a slow, painful death than to deny themselves the pleasure of droppin’ their g’s, callin’ a dog a “dawg,” or drawlin’ their way through the tellin’ of a good story. 

Thanks for readin’, y’all. 

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