Delta Dreaming: Language

            While the South hasn’t produced all of America’s great writers, it certainly has produced its share. I think one of the reasons for this is a culture of storytelling. What supper table in the South wasn’t graced with a tale or two? And that’s not even to mention those swapped around the old bench on Main Street. You know what bench I’m talking about.

            Along with this joy of relating stories came the need to produce a little richer language than that used by the masses. So phrases popped up that baffle outsiders to this day. Let’s examine a few.

            As late as last evening, at a gathering of friends, I produced a table of blank stares when I asked who knew what a “shoot’n scrape” was. No, it’s not a double-date of NRA members. It’s a scrape between two antagonists that involved a firearm. Someone shot someone else.

            They used to say back home that someone was “sittin’ there like Garrett on snuff.” This one is more complex. I suppose Garrett was considered the finest of snuff, so to express a posture of pride, one compared it to assuming the posture of the best there is.

            That last one may be a cousin to the compliment that something “runs like a Singer sewing machine.”

            Of course anyone in the South would know the implication of “Do you need to be excused?”

            Drivers weren’t exceeding the speed limit. They were “sacking air.”

            There is no joy quite like the joy that causes one to grin like a “jackass eating briars.”

            To relate that a child, animal, or clumsy adult “tumped” something over is guaranteed to produce confusion on the face of a non-southerner. It sounds perfectly normal to us.

            Shame unto the Southern girl who exhibits the behavior of a ”worm in hot ashes.”

            Or, pity the man who sinks so low as to have “snakes in his boots.” That implies he is “sorry, just plain sorry.”

            But bless the heart of a child whose “stomach is tore up.”

            There is rich farmland in the Delta. There is really rich farmland in the Delta. Then, there is farmland as rich as “five feet up a cow’s [behind]. Now that is fine farmland, the kind that would “fertilize the best land in Texas.”

            One of my mother’s favorites (I’ve never heard it from anyone else) put a fine point on one’s appearance by stating, “You look like something that was called for and couldn’t come and when it got there it wasn’t needed.”

            I’ll stop here and just add that the homogenization of language generated by too much TV makes my ass want a dip of snuff, or something like that. Sadly, folks of the future may not know a true Southerner from Adam’s house cat. I only hope I haven't gone 'round by Laura's house" to make my point.

 

“Think like a wise man but communicate in the language of the people.”

- William Butler Yeats

 

"Oh, the stories they could tell ... " John Sebastion
"Oh, the stories they could tell ... " John Sebastion

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