I love reading, always have. My mom started me on this path. She read to me in utero, and everyday after I was born until I learned to read on my own. She always made sure I had books available.
You know when little kids go to the grocery store or run errands with their parents and they always beg for a toy? I could never have one or even ask for one, but my mom would always let me pick out a book.
It’s no surprise that I decided to major in English in college where almost the whole degree is centered around reading, but I discovered somewhere along the way that I simply love words themselves: written, spoken, phonetic, unusual or commonplace. I love the subtle nuances between words, and the fact that English is the richest language on earth. The French language doesn't have the ability to differentiate between a house and a home, a man and a gentleman, a mind and a brain, and yet in English we can label a mere laugh with chuckle, chortle, cackle, giggle, guffaw and many more. Opposite that we have bawl, blubber, sob, weep, wail, whimper, whine.
When I started teaching the verbal portion of the SAT, I realized how many words were out there waiting for me to learn them. Why say “a lot” when you could say plethora or copious? Why say “Avoid Confusion” when the delightful “eschew obfuscation” is so brilliant?
I don’t believe in using big words just for the sake of it and certainly not just to intimidate your listener or make yourself look smart, although I have to admit, I have pulled a couple of rather esoteric words out of my back pocket when Paul and I would be arguing. It made it hard for him to win if he didn’t understand what I was saying, and there is no winning, no coming back, when you have to ask your opponent what a word means!
There has always been a part of my vernacular that I had never even noticed until Paul pointed it out to me, and that is how colorful our language is in the South. And I don’t mean four-letter- words colorful. I had taken these descriptive phrases for granted, but after having to explain them to Paul (he’s from the North), I started thinking about them.
Southerners don’t just communicate, we do it with flair and panache. I grew up hearing:
“John has a hard row to hoe.”
“Well, that’s just putting lipstick on a pig.”
“She’s sweating worse than a hooker in church.”
“I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger.”
The one that brought it all to Paul’s attention in the first place dealt with the fact that, as other regions of the country might say “he’s directionally challenged”. Prior to GPS, he would routinely call me at home to find out where HE was. Let that sink in for a minute. During one of our conversations I laughingly said, “Well, bless your heart. You couldn’t find your way out of a wet paper bag with a flashlight.”
If you are lucky enough to have been raised in the South, these are probably part of your normal speech patterns, but if you are fortunate enough to have moved to the South, you may be hearing these for the first time and feel like you’re hearing a unfamiliar language.
Whether native or transplant, there may be things here in the South that don’t float your boat: the heat, the humidity, the mosquitoes, the heat… but it can never be said that the kindness and friendliness of the people or their colorful diction is anything short of a little slice of heaven on earth. So if you don’t understand what we’re saying, please don’t hesitate to ask a native for clarification. It’ll make them happier than a pig in a puddle to help out a fellow neighbor.
I hope this has been as useful as a pocket on a shirt!!