“Ha Shoogah! Har yew?” I moved to the region from which my 19th Century ancestors harkened expecting to become immersed in the dialect of those very predecessors. While packing, I even imagined myself immersed in the nostalgia of conversations past, calling up the lilt of my Mississippi grandparents’ speech, tho they be deceased these many years. Was I ever in for a surprise, pardon me, reality check!
It turns out that all the young folks sound just like the people where I grew up. It is the Mid-Atlantic, colorless, flat speech made universal by television and radio, the sound of newscasts from DC, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Under the age of 45, nobody really comes from Virginia or The Carolinas or Georgia or Alabama or Mississippi anymore. They all come from Modern Media.
Not to despair, though, some of the traditions continue. For instance, around here, many of the natives still understand the true meaning of Southern Hospitality, a concept that is sadly misinterpreted in Points North of Richmond. It is a complex set of traditions based on the idea that it is rude to tell somebody when to leave but it is perfectly acceptable to cast hints and aspersions using time tested phrases that would be transliterated in Baltimore or New York as, “Ya been here long enough. Go home, now, and suck up your own electricity.”
A classic example is when the Southern Hostess, who would be caused to faint by such bluntness, is tired after serving dinner.
She says, “Won’t yew stay the naht?”
Her guests, being of local extraction, say something akin to, “We really must be getting on home. We forgot to feed the doggy before we departed from home. But thank yew so much. Dinner was delicious. Yew must give me the recipe for the 21st Century Charlotte Mock Chitlin’ Casserole!”
In stark contrast, a friend once explained to me that you don’t dare use that form of traditional communication with any Yankees because they’d be liable to respond to, “Won’t yew stay the naht” with, “Sure, great! Let me run to the car and get my stuff!”
Sakes alive, what has become of charm and inference? Must all verbal exchanges now be reduced to the lowest common denominator?! I must pay a visit to my mature friends just down the road in order to catch my breath and remember the sounds of congenial conversations past.