“Southern Ladylike Words” was my blog post that went viral over 5 years ago. People went crazy over the charming words, proving our rich language gumbo isn’t out of date. It’s what holds us together in an otherwise dumb-downed world.
We have the Vulcan, bona-fide rockets, a giant peach, sparkling beaches and our own language. From the melodic pronunciation of the words to clever phrasing, we say what we mean and mean what we say — but it seems to tumble out all cattywhompus to the unfamiliar.
If anyone claims our language is outdated or old fashioned, they’re missing the point. Our Southern style of communicating is like a journey. Getting there is half the fun.
We grew up listening to the elders talk as they visited on the porch or around a table heaped with food. Their words became ours, and although we may sound old-fashioned to the outside hoi polloi, those “raised right” know we’re never out of style. Speech peppered with older words means our roots run deep.
Like many of you, hymns were my gateway to poetic language with passages that left me breathless like, “sorrow and love flow mingled down.” Topped off with a dash of King James, we absorbed a vocabulary of mysterious power in both the ancient and new every week. My Sunday School teacher would take 18 syllables to say, “Let us contemplate this delightful verse,” then, she’d somehow soak the word, “Deuteronomy” in honey before it reached our ears.
My husband’s grandmother tossed her New York verbiage into the family lexicon by telling our boys, “You’re full of beans.” I’m not sure, but I think it was equivalent to my grandmother’s, “Your foot in a band box.”
I’m not exactly sure what some of this rigamarole even means, yet I repeat it to my children because I know the gist. I feel the vibe and know the undertones — strengthening the link to those we’ve loved.
One friend’s mother tossed around, “alas,” and another would tell us to “skedaddle.” A cousin with a country drawl would say he had a “hankering” for fried fish. Another told me to slow down or I’d “tump” the wagon over. They weren’t outdated, but were uncommon individuals, which around here, is a badge of honor.
The rule of the house dictated that those who carried a pocketbook to match their outfit were met at the door by their beau. Those who carried a purse dated a guy and those who slung an old bag around, ended up being one.
Vintage words are audible scrapbooks revealing yet another chapter of our story. Face to face communication promotes the continuity of a family’s personality. Maybe that’s why impersonal technology has left us with beige conversations marinated in blandness and sprinkled with boredom.
This story first appeared in the Mobile Press Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.