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The Art of Language

Art of Language – Body and Mouth

Living anywhere in the United States basically affords you the ability to speak the same language and mean the same thing regardless of where you are, right?  English is the spoken language, and we assume that most people have a good command of it.  However, I have found that there are vast differences in language both body and the spoken word from region to region, state to state, or  even within a state.  I didn’t believe it until I moved from New York to North Carolina.

Living here in Raleigh is almost like living in New York because of the large number of people who ended up here from somewhere else.  Raleigh is just like any other city with its melting pot of people and cultures.  Accents and dialects are not readily prevalent.  On occasion though, listening to a real southern accent is like music.  There is something very comforting about a voice with a southern hint and is most welcome.  At times though, when there is a real heavy drawl, I am at a real disadvantage, as I cannot understand what they are saying without serious concentration on my part.  I am sure the same holds true if someone listened to me.

In New York, I’ve taken for granted that everyone knows what I am talking about, can accept my slight Long Island accent (some may say heavy) and understand me without question.  I’d like to think I mean what I say.  Now that I live in the south, I’ve adopted some new ways of communicating – unspoken gestures,  words, and expressions – a few things that I’ve adopted in order to communicate effectively without looking foolish.  I’ve taken the liberty of summarizing and putting together a small guide of what I’ve learned so far.  This may help when you venture into the southern territory and hopefully communicate with ease so that no one will know that “you’re not from these parts”.

1. First and foremost, please take the time to look someone in the eye.  When living in New York and more specifically Manhattan, I avoided looking people in the eye when walking down the street.  I would just walk with headphones (now called ear buds), kept to myself and minded my own business.    In the south, people will not trust you if you don’t look at them.  Generally speaking, it is also a polite thing to do.

2. Say “Yes/No Sir” and “Yes/No Ma’am” after asking a question or making a statement.  The person you are speaking with will appreciate it and you’ll get extra sweetness back.

3.  Take your time when speaking.  I realize that I think and speak quickly, sometimes not allowing my brain to catch up with my mouth, a huge problem that many people are afflicted with.  Now, I just take a deep breath, think about what is about to come out of my mouth and then talk.  My friend’s son’s teacher coined the phrase “take a personal pause”.  Slowing down just a bit will not hurt anyone, in fact, by doing so, misinterpretation may well be avoided.

4. “Bless Her/His Heart“.  While many think hearing that  is a very nice compliment people say when speaking of someone not in their company, it really is a nice way of getting a dig in about that same person.  What it really means is “What an idiot” or  “That poor woman, she’s living with a fool” or “He is really pathetic”.   I think what is worse is “Bless Your Heart”  when said to your face!  I have a reliable source who confirmed this for me (you know who you are).  Next time you hear it, you’ll know.

5. “Y’all“.  Even though it can’t be found in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, it’s a contraction that is highly effective.  It takes a concerted effort to say ‘You All” with the appropriate pause between words.  Y’all is much more efficient.  A colleague of my husband’s said to him when he first started his new job “it’s two words combined, works well together, so just accept it”.  And that he did. He just informed me that he broke down and used it while addressing a group of people.  Assimilation is the key.

6. “Pens Up  really means “Pens Down”.  I had to explain this one to my son, after the first day of school where the teacher called out “Pens Up” after he took a placement test.  It literally means pick your pen up off the paper where as in New York, “Pens Down means put your pen down, the actual meaning.  This term also applies to book bags, books and other items in the classroom.   He felt foolish because he picked his pen and held it up in the air.  He was so embarrassed and who could blame him?  Why not just say “pens down?”  A logical question that I often ponder.

7. “Mash“.  When I think of the word, I think of mashed potatoes, and not the old TV show.  To me it means “mix”.  Here it essentially means “push”.  “Can you mash  5?” if in an elevator – which translates to “can you hit/push the 5th floor button.”   I just remembered that the letters on the “door close” button at my New York apartment building elevator was well-worn out.  I am trying to imagine someone yelling “Mash Close Door – quick” like it’s a secret code.  Back to the subject at hand, my very good friend, a Nurse Practitioner, hears “Mash all the time when giving an exam – “ooh, that hurts when you mash my stomach”.  She, who is also from New York, had to retrain her brain to remember that it means push.  I personally have never heard the word used in that context but I know it exists and will be ready when it does.

Moving from one part of the country to another takes some adjustments in every way possible, from the way that you think and behave down to the way you react to unspoken gestures and audible words.   These are just a few of the tidbits that have helped me along the way.   Who knew that traveling a few hundred miles would broaden my understanding of the English language in more ways than I ever expected!

Thanks for reading Y’all!

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