Talking Southern

Lee Foote
4 min readMar 20, 2023

Some say us Southern-talkers have honey dripping from our mouths when we speak. I like that, however, I prefer honey to travel the opposite direction down my goozle, a body part that reminds me, there are vocabulary differences between people north and south of Arkansas. Truly, people skirting the Appalachians or the Gulf of Mexico can’t expect others to recognize the creative use of “ mought, c’mon, ‘cept or hie-on”. Regardless of the direction those honeyed words travel, southern talk is typically a torpid exchange and frankly, it isn’t always sweet. I mean, cold burnt motor oil or the Velveeta sauce on drive-in movie nachos share this viscosity. It is unclear which of these semi-fluids is less healthy to eat, yet I know from experience, both will persist in car seat upholstery indefinitely.

Vocabulary and speech-speed aside, we still struggle with accents. The Oklahoma cowboy accent is southern and arrives as hard and slow as plate tectonics; my ex-girlfriend Ina doesn’t speak as much as she strokes your heart with velvet-coated words. Her sentences are a feather boa that enfolds you until you think you are wearing a mink coat. Inside out. Naked.

Sometimes the look conveys more than the words

Buddy and Kaye from South Carolina, I mean “Sow’ Caalina”, roll out a deeply seductive diction that could make serious money on an adult chat line. I am not the only one affected this way by southern sultry — when I worked in the National Parks I learned the concession owners recruited their summer workers from the deep South because of their manners, relaxed accent, and a propensity to say “Yes Maam, and No Sir”. Sort of a military-light. Some of them never went home either as they were scooped up by northern spouses. I recall Ms. Marti Vickstom, a 70-year-old southern belle living in Drummond, Montana for 55 years and having lost not a shred of her Virginia drawl –I suspect she had to work at that.

Loyd, a fine bluegrass guitar player and singer from Little Rock, Arkansas, has taken a respectable hillbilly accent spawned in the Ozarks and ruint it. Loyd used to have a strained, yet soft, spoken word delivery. It was both soft and punchy like cudgeling a perfectly good sack of ripe avocados with an axe haft. When Loyd made it to graduate school though, he felt obliged to properize his speaking by adding in book words, speeding up, and docking the tail off’n his words by discarding our distinctive extra syllables. For example, he now says “yes” when what he means is “Yeauah”. This change in pronunciation is sort of like subbing in a hardball at a softball tournament.

It is not only accent, speaking speed, or volume per se, rather, opting out of southernalia requires some combination of suspending the niceties of the language. We all know what “I’ll whip yo’ punk ass!” means, but venomous meaning can be less specified and equally communicative. Like when my wife says “Fine!” Now, in print, that is just the long version of “OK”, yet when served with verbal lava it might mean “What you said to my mother about the lunches I fix for our children was disparaging, and a damnation of my character.” I can expect to be repaid with ice, daggers, echo-y silence, and eye-rolling that would do a bucking horse proud for the next hour or so.

OK Sammy Dog, tell me how to unwrap my tongue from around my eye-teeth so I can see what I am saying!

Like nuclear radiation or those microwave ovens some southerners still don’t trust, one cannot put their finger on wife-ire but we sure as hell know it is dangerous! Surprising how that one little word can be inflected to move it from a concise validation to a paragraph of intra-marital bile. These are not things that can be taught but they sure as hell can be learned. When a southern woman dials up the volume, clips her normally relaxed words, and whips them at you side-arm instead of letting them fall like snowflakes, hell is in the process of being paid.

I earned these flowers fair and square. “You are officially out of purgatory now.”

Occasionally, we get lucky and the southern trope, though slow, communicates more than the Yankee diatribe. My Canadian Prosecutor and barrister friend asked me about my family and I allowed how most of them were lawyers too. I guess he didn’t understand that word even though he is in the profession, so he asked for clarification “Did you say ‘lawyers’ or “liars”?” A three-syllable answer sufficed “Yeauah”

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Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.