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More on Southern Speak

posted Aug 24, 2012, 7:40 PM by David Burkhart

I received a few phone calls about my blog about southern dialect. This is an important topic, because I write and edit books using dialect. A close friend, also an author, addressed me (her opinion) that writing in dialect is akin to making fun of culture.

"Not at all," I said. "Using dialect is a celebration--a preservation of the south or of any area--of culture--of tradition. For if  authors don't write in dialect, nuances of speech may be erased. Part of southern history will be lost.

When I wrote the first Jack tale book, I begged for the addition of more dialect. However, New York editors were more tuned in to the Chicago Manual of Style and Webster's dictionary. (Note" second Jack tale book due for release in Sept. 2008.)

Then when "Voices of the North Carolina Mountains" was in copy editing (see book tab for description), the editor called to say that I had words in the document that were not in Webster's. "Of course," I said. "There are many southern mountain words that are not in the dictionary."

"Sorry," responded the editor, "if the word is not in the dictionary, you can't use it in your document. Now let me know when you come up with a substitute word for 'sprangle'."

"But, it will take all the flavor and history out of the text," I said. "The dialect and old expressions are the heart of the book."

There was no winning or losing. I got lucky when my editor in Charleston realized the copy editor in Massachusetts didn't understand the purpose of the book--to capture southern history. Lesson learned. But "sprangled" stayed in.

The average person probably thinks that southerners only use expressions such as "ya'll", "over yonder," "happy as a clam,"sick as a dog," "stickin' your foot in your mouth," "down the road a piece." However, I recently heard some that I've never heard before even though I've spent my entire life in South Carolina, North Carolina, or Florida. (I'm not counting the year I spent in Portland, Oregon.) The following are the sayin's that my mother would have said are "dillies."

all vine and no tater--meaning superficial


organ recital--growling stomach

three pickles shy of a barrel--dumb

purse proud--cheap or stingy

"There must be a "blue million" ways to say things southern," Miss Nettie Murrill of Morehead City, North Carolina once said. And she knew at least half a million. She also said "cattywampus" instead of "crooked" and "mommicked" when she was aggravated in the worst way. 

In his book, "If This Ain't True, Grits Ain't Groceries," Glenn put it in the proper context. He said, "All my life I've been told I talk funny cause I shorten some words when I speak. But when I was young, everybody around talked the same. Now we're told we have an Appalachian accent. It came to me that such a way of speaking needs to be preserved as part of mountain history."

And, he's right. Language has to be preserved.

Southern Speak

posted Aug 24, 2012, 7:40 PM by David Burkhart

Some readers are put off by dialect within the text of the books they read. Others love the "touch" of culture that language offers and claim that local or colloquial "speak" helps them identify certain characters. That might well be, however, in thinking about this, I've started wondering why southern talking is the only English that is captured in dialect within the body of novels and essays. 

Think about it! People in New England have their own peculiar dialect, particularly those native-born to the Boston area. They most always put a "w" in "dog" and an extra "r" in "saw." When I lived in Portland, Oregon it was difficult to understand the native pronunciation of "bear," because it came out "beer." 

I won't bother to think of every area of the country where using dialect would be as appropriate as denoting southern English. Far be it for me to mention the American New York dialect. And, of course, to write in dialect for Americans born in other countries would certainly be considered incorrect - that is politically incorrect. So, tell me why is dialect only used when people below the Mason-Dixon line speak? It's English ya'll.


posted Aug 24, 2012, 7:03 PM by David Burkhart

We hear a lot about diversity. Yet, we rarely thinking about the word "diversity" as it impacts our lives.

I'm involved with a community of about 70 writers. They come on line in various discussions during the week and yak about things that bother them about writing. They want to lean on others for inspiration, and most of all some need encouragement to hold the course and get the work completed on time.

Now, that should be two different things - finish the project and then, meeting the deadline. But authors are faced with deadline after deadline. When the project is completed, they may wait for three years before seeing the result. In the meantime, most of us have thoughts about diversifying our lives. Writers have to change gears sometimes to keep from obsessing on the book they have going at the time.

One of the ways that was suggested was to write books in various genres, so that we are not always thought of as a children's writer, as a biographer, etc.  That is the new trend for fulltime writers - diversity.  Within the next few years, it will not be unusual to see writers write about the things that inspire them, not just about the things that sell. Just recently I saw a book about gardens written by a famous sports writer. Then there's Bill Murray's book on golf. (He's an actor, not a professional golfer - I don't care if it is funny.) I could go on and on. Science fiction writer Orson Scott Card has written a shelf-full of books on religious subjects.  

I've always been a maverick. I enjoy writing for children, however I get  a lot of satisfaction from writing  an adult historical picture book for Arcadia. People write to say, "Thanks, for doing a book with more pictures and less words. I'm busy and don't have time to sit for three days." Young students wouldn't read a 500 page book of detailed history, but they will look at the old photographs and read the detailed cutlines.

That has shown me that there are different readers for different kinds of books. I guess I'll keep plugging on to write for children and adults - some with pictures and some without. 

Southern Tradition

posted Aug 24, 2012, 6:50 PM by Lynn Salsi

Summer never makes me feel nostalgic. That generally happens in the fall. However, I recently sold the last five pieces of my mother's wedding china. It wasn't something that I was excited about. The fact is, I have crystal which is much less fragile looking than hers and a great deal more utilitarian. That means young visitors are welcome to use it and if they break it, it is readily available at a reasonable price.

On the other hand, my mother's was discontinued decades ago, and through the years of living and multiple moves it was reduced to only a few pieces. To replace it was over $35.00 per piece. I held on to it for old time's sake for a few years. One day, one of my son's friends came over and commented that she didn't understand why southerners wanted so many fancy dishes. It seemed to her that no one used them and they just took up space. I explained that the tradition dated back to Europe and the old times when brides assembled a "hope chest" of items that would be useful in their married life. In fact, my mother felt that "you" were "somebody" if you owned nice china and lovely crystal for twelve place settings.
Times have certainly changed. When I decided that no one that I knew would benefit from the crystal stemware, I found that Replacements only offered me fifty cents per piece. It would cost me more than $2.50 to drive it over or mail it to them. I did the only sane thing that I knew to do. I asked my husband to list it on E-bay. I only received about $25.00 which was about what my time was worth to pack it for shipping. And, since it had to go west of the Mississippi River, I miscalculated the postage and the amount it cost me to purchase a new box, new wrappings, etc. But, what I got in return was a story.

Stories are priceless to a writer. The new owner received it in good order and let me know that it completed her mother's set. Fantastic! The orphaned crystal found a home and in found it in another southern collection. That even made things better. Her mother's wedding crystal was never completed and the new owner now has a wonderful tribute to her mother. It really made me feel good that it didn't go to someone who was going to resell it. I know that my mother would be pleased.
But, as I wrapped the crystal to ship it, I had a horrible feeling of loss. I knew that these were my mother's best glasses. I actually worried that she might be looking down on me wandering why I wasn't the one to go shopping on E-bay to complete her pattern. But, we were never allowed to use the crystal. In fact, I don't remember ever using it but once in my entire life. That was when I got married and my mother cooked dinner for friends and family and set the table in her best china and crystal. That was it! Needless, to say it made me very happy that I'm still married to the same man. Those place settings on cool white linen really did it.

As my children were growing up, I'd encourage mother to set one of those beautiful southern tables with flowers from the garden, so that my children could have the experience. That never happened. In reality, my mother never liked to cook. She finally said one day, "I think about it, but I hate to hand wash all of those dishes." So, for at least 21 years, I set formal tables with real flowers and candles. My mother loved it. It finally came to me. She loved formal meals when someone else was setting the table, cooking the food, and washing the dishes.

That became part of my role in the family until the day my mother passed away 18 months ago ast the age of 89. Her role was to gad-about in her car, make the most beautiful quilts in the world, and - no one was a better seamstress. Her fine sewing of doll clothes is legendarywithin our family. So, as I mailed off five pieces of the precious past, I realized that my mother shed it long ago. She was busy doing things that really counted. And, she never counted washing dishes as one of those things. After all, she was born in 1915 and washed enough dishes by the time she was twenty-five that she could have had a law degree.

I think about that sometime. Women do so many mundane things over and over, like mopping floors, washing clothes, and browning ground beef. If we could re-capture that time, just think of what could be accomplished toward saving the world, creating labor-saving inventions, and forcing the price of oil down. We need to band together.

So, thanks to Mrs. Burt who now has the crystal in a revered collection. It is touching that someone in another state, someone that I have never met, has a tiny place in my heart for perserving my past. But someone I don't know has now added to my thoughts about how quickly we are lossing our traditions. They must be saved, even if we only write them down for future generations to read about.
Do it! Write about things you remember! Future generations will appreciate it.

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