I lack statistics, but I think a passel of people wished they lived in the South just so they can talk like us. Our sayings and quirky phrases make conversations more fun. My recent column about things folks say in the South made readers happy as that dead pig in the sun I wrote about.
I appreciate your responses:
“FUUNNEE!!!!! You tickled my gizzard.”
“I love reading your editorials. Many times, I will chuckle or ponder your view. However, on this column, I could not agree more. The language and imagery that you used is perfect. I started hearing all my relatives in my head. Finally, something to read that was not negative or something that did not need a solution or cure. Thank you, Dee Dee for brightening my day.”
“The southern accent is soothing — especially in contrast to my flat mid-west accent. But anymore I really don’t notice accents like I used to — they all kind of blend together for me.”
“Thank goodness for the Times-Georgian with columns to read like yours in this time of lockdown. I enjoyed your article about the Southern accent. My son who lived in Boston for 30 years always said that it was a different world when you crossed the Mason-Dixon line. My Mom was from South Dakota and she would say to me, “Grab a root” when she wanted me to help her make a bed. My girl-friends laughed when I asked them to grab a root when we were working in Yosemite Valley. I still have found no one who ever heard that expression. You are right, Southerners have a lilt to the language.”
Google magic helped me research that “root” saying. The exhortation to “grab a root and growl”, a phrase at least 100 years old, is a way of telling someone to buck up and do what must be done. Grabbing and growling suggests the tenacity of a terrier sinking his teeth into something and refusing to let go. The expression is reminiscent of the similar, “root, hog, or die”, which refers to a time when hogs weren’t fenced in and had to find most of their own food.
Antiquated sayings reveal my age. When a 40-something friend asked what I was doing, I said, “Nothing. Just sitting here chewing the fat.” You’d think I landed in a time machine from a bygone era, because she asked, “What fat?”
Growing up, I heard “chewing the fat” all the time. I thought the phrase was universally understood, but felt my hair turning white. In a hipper-than-thou tone, my friend said, “People my age say ‘shoot the breeze.’ ” I guess idioms expire like milk.
Before moving to Carrollton, I was executive director of a leadership program in Charlotte. I arrived at the job thinking I talked pretty good. But, my board of directors insisted I attend trainings, institutes and workshops to enhance my leadership skills. I had a personal coach, an accountability coach and an image consultant.
You might wonder why they hired me if I required so much help. Think of it as polishing a gem to a higher gloss. I needed to model and practice what I preached; leaders never stop learning.
I learned how to enunciate clearly and how to swallow my nerves. I learned I should practice speaking in front of a mirror. Per Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” I learned first to understand and then to be understood. Repetition made my learnings second nature. I routinely spoke before a class of 60 community leaders. I appeared before audiences of hundreds who attended our special events. When my words were lost in translation, no training prepared me for what could have been an international incident.
Around 2000, the Chamber of Commerce hosted a Chinese delegation. The distinguished group of 20 visitors wanted to learn the “why” and “how” of leadership. I was invited to make the presentation.
The translator introduced me. She explained that community leadership development wasn’t the norm in Chinese society, and I delivered my remarks. Our rhythm required a delay: speak, pause for translation.
The audience was engaged. Then, it happened. I used a familiar analogy to describe the challenge of training leaders, many of whom exhibit alpha personality traits. I said, “Dealing with leaders is like herding cats.”
The translator looked confused. The delegation squirmed and whispered. My last sentence had been translated as, “Dealing with leaders is like hurting cats.” It upset our visitors from China to hear that Americans harmed cats in order to train their leaders. I asked the translator to carefully correct what I said; everyone laughed and a diplomatic disaster was averted.
Words are powerful and sound sweeter coming from the mouths of Southerners.
Dee Dee Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.