Yankee Doodle Bubba 

Why are Northerners so fascinated with the way Southerners talk?

Some years back, my sister Ann, who lives down in South Carolina, called my house in Nashville. Daughter Jess, who was in the first grade at the time, answered the phone.
Some years back, my sister Ann, who lives down in South Carolina, called my house in Nashville. Daughter Jess, who was in the first grade at the time, answered the phone. As Jess listened, she got an odd look on her face, then turned to me and said, “Daddy, there’s a woman on the phone who sounds really country, and she says she wants to talk to Bubba.”“Baby,” I said, “I’m Bubba. I’ll explain later. Let me have that phone.”After I had my phone talk with my sister, I had a little talk with Jess about rustic speech. “To you,” I said, “I’m Daddy. To my sister back home in South Carolina, I’m Bubba. It’s short for brother.”“Why not just say ‘brother’?” Jess asked.“Tradition, I guess. Just do this: Whenever the country woman calls and asks for Bubba, just holler ‘Daddy,’ because it’s for me.”Over Thanksgiving weekend, the subject of rustic speech came up again. Last fall, daughter Jess and her best friend Anna decided on different colleges. Jess wanted to be at a school that was no more than a half-day’s drive from home and was a good place for a creative student. Anna wanted to go to a school that had an excellent reputation for teaching foreign languages. Though Jess and Anna were sad to part, they worked out ways to communicate via phone, text and email, and ways to meet up during school holidays. Over Thanksgiving weekend, the girls got together for dinner and a movie.“People at school keep asking me to talk Southern,” Anna told Jess. “I don’t mind them asking, and I don’t really mind talking Southern for them. But I do wonder why it gets them all excited.”“That’s going to happen at a Yankee school,” Jess replied. “Last year, when Mom and I went to New York, I noticed people creeping up on me just so they could hear me talk. As if people in New York don’t talk funny. Anyhow, talking enhanced my enjoyment of New York. A stagehand from Hairspray snuck up on me and listened to me talk. Then, as a reward for talking Southern, he let Mom and me go backstage and pose for a picture in front of the giant can  of hairspray.”Jacked up on the notion of using their Southernness to exploit culturally deprived Yankees, Jess and Anna formulated a plan. Someday in the not-too-distant future, Jess will drive up to Anna’s college, and the two of them will roam the campus talking to each other like moonshine-making, squirrel-brain-eating, inbred hillbillies. As soon as they draw a crowd, they’ll turn to the gathered students and introduce themselves using their refined voices, which they picked up at their overprivileged-kid school here in Nashville.Jess acted out such a scene at the table after Thanksgiving dinner. “Hey, shoog,” Jess said, pretending to talk to Anna, “I ain’t seen you in a coon’s age.” She then turned to imaginary listeners: “Y’all simmer down. You can look up ‘coon’s age’ in that Wikipedia. It just means a real long time. I swear befo’ God.”Then Jess turned to address another imaginary listener and switched to her over-enunciated, regular-American voice. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Jess. I’m visiting with Anna today, and we’re conducting an experiment in cultural bias. We’re interested in prejudice as it relates to one’s perception of regional speech patterns.”I spoke up. “Can I go up there with you? I’d sure like to hide behind a tree and watch what happens when you and Anna start switching voices and personalities like Robin Williams on adrenochrome.”“I’ll talk about that with Anna,” Jess said. “I’ll let you know. Maybe you could get in on it. When you lived in New York, didn’t you go around yelling at Brooklynites for correcting your pronunciation?”“I did,” I replied. “I’d go down in the subway and ask for 10 tokens, and the sumbitch in the booth, who noticed that I pronounced the word ‘tin,’ would come back with, ‘Do you mean ten?’ To which I’d reply, ‘No, asshole. I mean nine. Or 11. What do you think I mean? You people call paws ‘pores’ and pores ‘paws.’ You say you ‘sore’ something. Now give me my 10 tokens.’”“I’ve been wondering for a long time,” Jess said, “When you’re coaching softball, you know you sound like a redneck, don’t you?”“Yes, I noticed that. ‘Can’t’ turns into ‘Cain’t.’ ‘Go on’ turns into a stretched-out ‘go-awn.’ ‘Get down’ becomes ‘giddown.’ I don’t have time to think when I’m coaching, so I revert to redneck, which is my first language.”“You’re good at redneck,” Jess said. “You can sound just like those Little League parents who get in fistfights at the ballyard.”“Well,” I said, “that’s one of the reasons I quit coaching when you graduated from high school. In my new role as a bleacher-sitting college-ball-watching daddy, I intend to present myself as an educated and polished man of letters.”“That’s fine,” Jess said. “But don’t change too much. Show me a little redneck now and then, so I’ll know you haven’t had a stroke or something.”“I’ll do that,” I said, “as long as you promise to use your Southern-talking powers to aggravate some Yankees every now and then.”


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