A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Accent the Positive

Ah’m fixin’ to write this blog, y’all, for the a to z challenge.  It’s just takin’ me a bit.

I was born in the South and learned to speak there, my earliest words lulled by languorous rhythms of low country loquacity, dusted with the twang of the North Georgia mountains, and balanced by the “get-to-the-business” patois of Birmingham and Atlanta.

I do have to confess to some inner valley girl swirled somehow into the middle; a hitchhiker, I suppose, from UGA college days long past.  It’s like, who I am.

Some of us chose to hide our Southerness.  Or mask it in our daily conversations, thinking the lack of a drawl makes us sound smarter, more educated.  Traveled.  Worldly.

But if we are from the South (and that South can run all the way from Delaware to parts of Texas and Arkansas) trust me: we have an accent.  And the deeper you get into Dixie, the deeper it lies within the dweller; the broader it becomes, the more it brands who we are.

As children, we’re all yes’ems and no’ums, fixins and done gonnas, but once we’re off to college and maybe living outside the South in some nest o’ Yankees or Midwesterners, (or heaven help us, as a lonely expat in outrageous and truly foreign parts, like New York City or Los Angeles), many of us will barricade behind the safe sterility of carefully enunciated “Americanisms,” only spontaneously dropping our “g”s in the excitement of  a promotion, “y’all”in’ all up while reminiscing about our childhood, returning to our every day lives from down home holidays with gifts of fudge, divinity and peanut brittle, along with some venison sausage that we let slip, “came from a deer our Deddy shot lass Fall.”

My voice falls into Southern drawl when I am tired, drunk, or in trouble. Too often, my accent is attacked by all three of these realities.”
Jennifer Harrison, Write like no one is reading

Much like Jennifer, my accent seeps out of me when I’m tired (and admittedly, the other two occasions as well) plus the rare opportunity that I’m actually speaking on the phone with a Southerner, especially an older woman.  It’s like a secret password: “Hey, I’m one of y’all.  I know the code.”

You almost always hear my accent when I’m being charming, or flirty. Believe it or not, Time Magazine recently reported that a survey by dating site Cupid.com, voted the “sing-song honey sweetness” of the Southern accent as the country’s sexiest, and by a pretty significant margin.

Regardless, it’s part of me and defines me as a native of the Southern states of our nation.  There’s history and tradition in my speech, an above-the-norm politeness and courtesy marks my words. The voices of my ancestors layer over the language of business and tech I speak daily at work; Southern “sugar” spins into words of endearment; the honeys, preciouses, sweeties, and darlins I use to address my beloveds and total strangers alike.

Oh, and I will use it to be annoying.  Don’t get me wrong.  The first time I sense someone is prejudging me as an Atlantan, or a Southerner in general; watching them don that patient look they might assume with the deliberately obtuse, the mentally challenged or the truly uneducated.

Game on.

And then I lay it thick.  Sweet as honey, slow as  molasses mixed with peanut buttuh.  Just givin’ them folks what they’re expectin.’

Why, it’d be just plain rude to disappoint!

“I decided to deflect her attitude by giving a long, Southern answer. I come from people who know how to draw things out. Annoy a Southerner, and we will drain away the moments of your life with our slow, detailed replies until you are nothing but a husk of your former self and that much closer to death.”
Maureen Johnson, The Name of the Star


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21 thoughts on “A Hellacious Belle’s Guide to the New South: Accent the Positive

  1. Loved this post. Accents and dialogues fascinate me. As a Scot, from the east coast of Scotland, but living in the north west, my east coast twang is often remarked upon. But when I visit friends and family in Edinburgh they tease me for my Highland accent. They say even garden birds have distinctive accents in their call. Vive la difference! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • I love them too – and love impersonating people I meet – trying to slip on that accent or speech pattern! Bless our hearts, but we do try to don a Scottish accent when reading poems at Burns’ Supper each year. You would find it quite amusing, I’m sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I love that quote….I am absolutely guilty of that. Think I’m stupid because I’m Southern? I will slurp the life right out of you with my Southern-ness. 😉 I am not an accent hider, but I can’t say that I have any noble reason for that…it’s partially because I didn’t realize how thick my accent is until rather recently and partially because I’m too lazy to learn to speak differently. 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I did even know I had a Southern accent until we moved to Washington state in the 70’s. It was then that THEY made me say Darling-Southern-grits….I was actually at a grocery store asking if they had Grits. They did not-but asked if I would say that again. Pulease! Bless your little hearts~

    glassy~

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I really enjoyed your post. I have been living in New York state for 32 years and people are constantly telling me I have the “Southern Drawl.” Someone actually called me a “Rebel” today. I am originally from Texas.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My family is from Massachusetts and though I’ve never lived there, sometimes people will note the Bostonian pronunciation of words such as roof and garbage! Somethings we just can’t help!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I love the valley girl, “it’s like who I am”.
    Being Southern California born and bred to moving to the deep South was quite a culture shock to me, and my son has now picked up on the accents with a few words from being here for so long. I love every time I hear him pronounce one of those words.

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  7. Delaware is right, Kimi. When this New Yorker left to attend the University of Maryland and landed in College Park, I listened to the locals that first day there and thought to myself, “Oh, crap, WHAT are they saying to me?” Of course, it was I with the accent, as they gave me the same puzzled look for my New Yawkese. I came to understand their lovelier way to pronunciate just in time to get a job in Syracuse and move back north. Now I think my accent is neutral. Check out my podcast and tell me if I’m right if you get a minute.
    http://waer.org/post/mark-doyles-guitar-noir-makes-its-return
    I love the deeper southern accent, by the way. It rocks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh yes, you have a great neutral journalism voice – pleasant intonation and very well enunciated! Great interview! I had to take a class at UGA dedicated to beating out my accent for TV reporting. Brutal! The effects lasted several years, but I’m slipping more and more into Southernisms the older I get!

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      • Please slip back into the southernisms, Kimi. It is a beautiful way to speak. When I do the podcast, I make a conscious effort fo neutralize. At home with MDW Karen, I’m a little more New York. Get me with my Long Island sisters and fuggedaboudit. 🙂 Did you become a TV reporter at all? You have the smarts and looks, my friend.

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