I Can’t Understand a Word You Say

September 4, 2012


Contrary to what Hollywood erroneously promotes, there isn’t one true authentic Southern accent spread evenly throughout Dixie. We don’t all sound alike. There’s Hee Haw, and then there’s Gone With The Wind.
Two Alabamians can be in the room, and if you know your “y’alls” from your “drawls” you can immediately distinguish who resides in Florence and who hails from Mobile. Georgians can be differentiated by the lilt of the mountain dwellers or the creative enunciation of the coastal natives just as Tennessee folks vary east to west.
But absolutely everyone has to agree that the Southern state with the largest chasm between regions is Florida.
North Florida is South. South Florida is North.
I’m sure you don’t need any further explanation, and by the way, I’m not condemning, just stating the facts, ma’am.florida-division north vs. south
I now present to you a very true and personal example of the great language barrier of those from “The South” and those from “South Florida”
When I was a college student in Tallahassee, a girl from Miami decided to hold a fundraiser for a cause I can’t even remember.  With great detail, she informed me of her plans to set up a table in front of the dorm that Saturday, and sell Beagles. 
I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she thought that was a good idea.  We weren’t allowed to have dogs in the dorm, and Beagles are a handful to care for, especially when you are busy going to classes. Where would she put all these dogs?  
Beagle vs. Bagel. It's a Southern thing, y'all. - Leslie Anne Tarabella blog.
Arff – Arff -Arff!!! Throw me a biscuit!
All these thoughts were running through my head while her lips kept moving and she chattered away about how she was going to get some cream cheese and lox to go on the Beagles.
Bagel? Try a biscuit instead. - Leslie Anne Tarabella blog.
What? Oh, BAGELS!  She was talking about round, thick, chewy bread!  And to me, “bagel” is what I’ve always called a cute little brown and tan hound dog. You know, Snoopy is a Beagle? (bay-gull)??? That’s just how all my relatives in North Florida and Alabama pronounced the name of the hound.
And honestly, at that time, you couldn’t even buy bagels at the Jitney Jungle back home, so it really wasn’t on my radar as something you would even need.  My Mama always made biscuits or regular old toast. As for lox . . . well, you can guess what I thought about that one  (combination or key?)
Before I realized what she meant, and about the time she mentioned “lox” I had already asked if the beagles would be full –grown or puppies.
Puppies? Lox? Beagles? Bagels?
Miss Miami and I had a shared moment of staring at each other in silent confusion, disbelief, and finally, acceptance. Acceptance that we couldn’t believe we lived in the same country much less state.
The bagel sale earned all of $12.50 with 100 percent of her customers being students who grew up south of Orlando. They were all thrilled to have found a bagel in the very Southern city of Tallahassee.
Put some South in your Mouth - Leslie Anne Tarabella
Several weeks later, I picked up a hot biscuit from a local Mom and Pop breakfast joint and took it to Miss Miami. “Here, put some South in your mouth” I told her. Even though she tried to play it cool, I could tell she was feeling the Southern love of fluffy, flakey, buttery goodness. She promised to reciprocate by bringing me a bagel, but never did.
I think she had a kind of Southern conversion experience, which wiped her clean of her former ways.
And to confuse things even more, when I went home that summer, my cousin had a Beagle named Biscuit.
And that’s the truth, y’all.

  • Hi! Followed you over from Funny PostPartum Lady. This literally made me LOL. I was born and raised in NY, and moved to NC in my early 20’s. I am 30 now, so I have not been here too long, and still sometimes find the southern accents difficult to understand. Granted most people I meet here are also from NY, FL (usually 1st from NY), or somewhere else up North, but the few true Southerners I encounter are difficult to understand and I am sure they could say the same about my fast talking Northern accent. Now following via GFC.


  • HAHAHA! this is fantastic. I’m originally from central Virginia, and all the accents from the south east STILL confuse me! I sound nothing like people who grew up less than an hour from me!

    Fantastic blog, great site, and I’m a new follower from TGIF Blog Hop 🙂

  • The more of your posts I read, the more I love your blog. I have been in this situation many times, being from Annisto, AL originally. When I lived out in Denver for a couple of years, every time I opened my mouth, people laughed. I though, I must be wittier than I knew! Then I remembered when I was a child, maybe about six or severn, we went to visit some of my parents friends in West Virginia. They would take me into the village and get the locals to engage me in conversation, just to hear me talk. I guess that is when I realized I might be pretty funny, judging from all the chuckles.

  • Hahaha! Thanks for sharing the story. There are many stories I can tell from my time in college. As we have dialects in Switzerland that even a Swiss can’t understand. We spent hours entertaining each other about the meaning of this word or that word and how we pronounciate it. Have a nice weekend. Regula

  • Anonymous says:

    I thought this was a very funny post. As a Midwestern girl who went to college in Texas, I must admit I was on the Miss Miami end of things more than once. I remember meeting a boy who told me his name was T.M. “Oh wow,” I thought to myself, “he uses his initials, how cute!” So I decided to make a little joke to find out what T.M. was short for. “Tee Emm,” I said, “like transcendental meditation?” He looked back at me with complete and total incomprehension. I’ll leave it to you readers to guess his name. –Min

  • My accent is so Smoky Mountain that it sounds like it fell off the tallest tree on Mt. LeConte, tripped over the roots getting up, and waded through seven branches to get to the bottom. My husband’s family are from LA (Lower Alabama–near Monroeville) and we almost need interpreters when we visit. Love this post!

  • Oh my gosh I just about peed when I read this (not very ladylike, I know). I am from North FL but now live in Central FL (hodge podge!) and this is too funny!!
    (and this post could be the reason I picked my blog name! lol).

  • My friends tease me ALL the time about my accent. I am originally from MS and have spent the last 26 years in SC. I don’t know what they think is so funny about my accent…they are from Alabama! On a cruise once, the waiter asked us where we were from. With a little too much wine, I declared in a very slow drawl that, “I’m from the SOOOUUUTH!” 🙂 Loved your post. Saw you on Six Sisters.

  • I laughed and laughed while reading this post! Love the sign at the beginning – Amen, Stay Southern!

  • I never tire of complaining about Hollywood’s interpretation of a Southern accent. I once heard it described as “Foghorn Leghorn,” which seems about right.

    Loved your beagle/bagel misunderstanding. When I first encountered bagels in MS (the Lender’s frozen kind) I thought you were supposed to heat them in the microwave. Wasn’t until I moved to California that I found out they aren’t meant to be THAT chewy.

  • Love this post…once I gave a message to my boss: “Mrs. Smith called about her apartment.” After a lot of initial puzzlement, it turned out she was calling about her “appointment.”

  • Glad to find your blog, too! You are so right about the accents, too! I grew up just an hour from Selma, and the accents are totally different.

  • LOL! That is so cute and believe me I truly understand. I’m from Fort Payne, Alabama and moved away when I was 13. I took my little accent with me and when I enrolled in jr. high school, I noticed the teachers asked me to read quite a lot. I was so proud and thought, man, I’m a great reader or they wouldn’t calling on me so much. At the end of the school year one of my teachers confessed he asked me to read so much because everyone loved listening to my accent. I was humiliated! I did everything to change it but I think I have some of that in me. When I go and visit relatives, I feel myself slipping back into that talk after all of these years! 😉
    Thanks so much for popping in to see me. I know, the crisp and cool of fall is a long way off here too. But I always try to rush it.
    Be a sweetie,
    Shelia 😉

  • Love this. I am not from Ga. but live there because my hubs dragged me there. A lady from church asked me what state up north I was from. I replied “I am from that great northern state of South Carolina that started the Civil War.” I have a very pronounced southern accent too.

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