Language Lessons

Language Lessons November 29, 2010

I’ve been at work on a novel. If all goes according to my plan that novel will be out sometime late next year.  But there’s a lot of work that needs to be done yet in order for that to happen. The first of which is I’m going to have to teach all of you a new language.

And while it is true that I studied Latin for two grueling years, the only thing I learned was Gaul est en Europa and I already knew that France was in Europe long before I wasted all that time in Latin class. Of course the best thing about Latin were the Toga parties. But rest assured, I’m not going to be teaching you Latin. Or Spanish. Nope. Not German. Or Hebrew. Though Tim could manage the later three with ease.

The thing is I only know two languages — English and Hillbilly.

It’s the latter one I’m going to be working on teaching you. Well, I call it Hillbilly language but the dictionary actually refers to it as Smoky Mountain English. That’s just a high flutin way of saying Hillbilly but you know how uppity educated folks can be about this sort of thing.

We’re going to have some fun learning Hillbilly-speak and I want you to feel free to share stories of your own here.

One of my dearest friends Gordon Wofford came from the Cumberland Gap area of Tennessee. Gordon spoke Smoky Mountain English better than anyone I’ve ever met. Gordon used to call me nearly every morning and tell me stories. Sometimes I’d just open up my computer and write those stories down. Sometimes I’d just write out the words he was saying. Some of Gordon is in that novel I’ve been at work on. Gordon passed away much too young. I have missed his phone calls and stories ever since.

We are going to take this one word at a time and I am hoping that you will join me in a revolution of sorts. A concerted effort to reclaim the language of a people before those words and stories are lost forever to the generations that will follow:

aboon: preposition. Meaning: to think oneself superior to. Ever since those Swamp people got their own TV show, they act like they aboon their own kin.

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  • Eleanor

    Fabulous! My Mama’s folks were mountain folk — this should be fun!

  • Diane

    This will be a hoot~! I was raised hillbilly but have since lived mostly in MN. My family says I talk like “Lawrence Welk.” I’m not doing very well on this test so far though…had never heard of aboon. Looking forward to the “foreign language” classes…..

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Diane you’ll have to dig up some of those Minnesota sayings that Garrison is always quoting and share those with us.

  • Steve Taylor

    I live in the swamps of Eastern NC in the midst of the greastest folk and richest culture I have ever experienced – the Lumbee – and I’ve experienced a great variety of different cultures. Whereas the folks here are certainly not hillbillies, the lingual patterns and lexicon are as uniquely rootsy as any in the US. I look forward to the journey.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Steve: I’ve been to the Swamps of the Lumbee and I know you will have a lot to contribute to this effort. The thing I love about NC folks is they have managed to hang onto their ways with a stubbornness that I admire. Our language is too heavily influenced by media — everything is awesome, even God. Those mountain kin of mine might not have been educated but their language skills remain unsurpassed. Hearing them talk was like listening to poetry being recited.

  • If I may offer a submission to your hillbilly vocabulary list, it would be the phrase “like a that away into it.” Loosely translated, it means: “Don’t you agree?” or “Isn’t that so?” I learned this from a college friend who served as a summer missionary in the Appalachians one year. He heard it a hundred times that summer from an old woman that he visited regularly. I smile every time I think about this phrase.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Ken: I can honestly say I have never heard that turn of a phrase. Can you offer us a sentence as an example? I did my summer mission work in Gary, Indiana.

      • “Ooo wee, that Mary Lou is a fine cook! Like a that away into it, Billy John?”

        If Mary Lou is within earshot, Billy John’s only response to this would be, “Yes’um” else Billy John would never have the pleasure of tasting vittles from Mary Lou’s table, again.

  • Karen, you ain’t right. But this ought to be funny. Got to admit, though, after 2 decades in Gordon’s neck of the woods I’ve never heard of aboon. Ya learned me somethin’ good today!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I think Mrs. Campbell probably used aboon before she grew up, got married and moved off to the city. I miss her apple turnovers. Those were some good eatings.

  • Peg Willis

    Shades of Christy. I love it!

  • Mary Cooke

    I know I am going to enjoy this. My mother came from the north of Scotland and often spoke in a Scots dialect which is probably similar to that of the Smokies and is fast disappearing. It often seemed like a foreign language to her children. But I googled “aboon Scots dialect” and there it was.

  • Treva Whichard

    We lived in a number of southern towns – Savannah,Ga, Enterprise, Alabama, Douglasville, GA – and 3 places in Texas.
    When I first lived in the ‘sath’ I thought I had moved to a foreign land. Can distinctly recall thinking ‘What are these people saying?” I learned that ‘bald nuts” was really ‘boiled nuts’, ‘moan’ was actually ‘come on’ and ‘my luv is lak a ret ret rose’ was ‘my love is like a red, red rose. Once I mastered suthrn, I moved to…. (drum roll) New England – to Cape Cod. Talk about culture shock, but I ‘spec, tha afta 21 years I might dang near git ta hang off it and sheer my bald nuts wif my frens.”

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Treva: Know all those towns very well. You did a pruty good job at larning Southernspeak but I believe you meant to say “bald pee-nuts.” I knever hurd ’em calt “bald nuts” before. Love this comment.