Thursday, April 03, 2008

Bad, Bad Words

Despite some people's claims, I am quite the rural southerner... in some ways. The fact that I keep a small menagerie at my house is only one of my country tendencies, but it's also true that I also possess some distinctly unSouthern ways. My beer geekery is a good sign that I'm a bit more exposed to the outside world than the average redneck, as is my tendency to make jokes about foreign heads of state. K and I actually refer to passing gas as Vladding, thanks to the soon-to-be-former president of Russia. I'll let you think about that one if it doesn't make any sense to start off. If you think about it long enough, you'll get it. I find that little inside joke quite the delightful bit of highbrow and lowbrow mash-up. Sure fart jokes are perfectly within the realm of the average rural southerner, but being comfortable enough to actually have an informed opinion on said leader in addition to mocking his name is not exactly redneck material. In fact, I've been told by a friend, a Jewish Jersey Boy living in Atlanta, that I was one of the least country people he knew despite my choices of residence. I took that as a compliment. He seemed insistent that I not take the comment as backhanded praise. I guess he didn't realize how hard it is to actually insult me. I take a little pride in the fact that I know more than just what goes on in my little part of the world.

My students tend to find it hard to believe that I'm a local native and my friends seems a little too quick to assure me that I don't have much of a Southern accent (like sharing a regional dialect with the likes of William Faulkner, Sidney Lanier, and Harper Lee is a shameful thing), but there are still some lingering pieces of my upbringing that bug me a little. I find it quite impossible to say the word "jewelry" unless I really concentrate as I work my way through the word. It tends to come out more as "jewry" or "jury", both of which are entirely different. I'm pretty sure that wearing Jewry is illegal or, at best fairly tasteless. Both Jewry and jury would be a little cumbersome. Another troublesome word is "architect." This one is perhaps even more embarrassing, if just for the fact that I have to be careful that it doesn't come out as "AR-key-tek," which makes me sound a bit like a hillbilly. I also feel self-conscious with the word "Italian," although I'm pretty sure I always pronounce it "ih-TAL-yun" and not "EYE-tal-yun." The good news is that I haven't pronounced words like "bell" with two syllables since something like the third grade.

To still confuse matters, some words I'm quite proud to pronounce in the vernacular fashion. I refuse to pronounce "pecan" as "puh-CON". I stress the first syllable (a distinctly Southern habit) and then pronounce the vowels by the vowel-consonant-vowel pronunciation rule (which I'm aware is more of a suggestion when talking about the English language, but it does give me the rhetorical high ground).

And there are some other words that I have trouble saying but for no reason of culture. I'm a stutterer, although a partially recovered stutterer thanks to years of speech therapy in grade school. It only shows through in occasions of strong self-consciousness and certain words and word combinations. If I'm nervous, especially about the prospect of stuttering, I'll get stuck on certain sounds, my name being a particularly difficult phrase when meeting new people (something I'm almost always uncomfortable with.)

There are those really rare words or combinations of words that I will always get stuck on regardless of my comfort in the situation. "Sweet potato" is nearly impossible for me, and I have no clue why. Sadly I really like these and will order them frequently in restaurants, especially with a steak which leaves me to gag on the words or to arrive at the order in some circuitous manner. I really wish it were possible to avoid communicating with the spoken word entirely.


Meaghan said...

You could pretend you're deaf and learn sign language.

And if it makes you feel any better, Ryan says birFday. It's kind of funny. If he slows down and focuses on it, he can say it correctly, but otherwise, it always comes out with an "F."

We actually used to get in trouble if we mumbled or if we spoke with a Southern accent. When I went to college, many people thought I was from up north. Clearly, the northerners don't think so, so I guess I'm stuck in the middle somewhere!

Chris said...

I sometimes struggle with jewelry, too. Try having a dog named Jewels. I wonder what people think when I yell for her to come when we're outside or at the park.

I'm never sure how my dialect sounds to others. I recall in third grade my teacher correcting me for saying I had left my notebook "up thar on that table." I'm confident I've progressed from that point.

But still, sometimes when I interview people from the West Coast, they ask where I'm calling from (706 area code is not widely known) and then say, oh yeah, they thought it was a Southern accent.

Mickey said...

Believe it or not, when I talk to Philadelphia-area family members they remark on my southern accent. I guess I can hear it on certain words.

And just so you know, when I first met you I didn't think you had a stutter. I just thought you were a nervous speaker like myself.

Julie said...

Thank you, Jacob. I sometimes feel like I'm the only one laughing anymore when newscasters say 'Putin.'

Lately, all the cool kids (meaning the men that have married into my family in the last few years) get their kicks by making fun of how my mom says 'ice.' You know, with a pronunciation something like, 'iiiice.'