Okay, Listen Here

Okay, Listen Here

Monday, May 23, 2011

I was like, "Hand Me that Dish Rag. I Dropped Creamed Potatos on My House Coat."

If you start out, "I was, like, Oh, my God," you just are not going to be able to bring it back to eloquence. Can't be done. Language is ever changing, but there are evolutions that are not for the better. Using was like instead of said or asked is one of them—as in "I was like, are we going to the mall?"

This has bothered me for a while but it was set off anew this morning. My friend, Dr. Effervescent, and I do not see enough of each other to suit either of us. However, this weekend another friend received an award and we traveled to lay witness to the ceremony. We were grabbing a last few minutes together on the swing in front of the Comfort Inns and Suites when a woman we'd never seen before chose to join us and chat us up. We were not delighted but it is, after all, a free country and we didn't own the swing. Being polite, we talked to her.

Then she started in about our accents. I let it go on for a while but, finally, I said, "You know, we don't have accents. We are at home." This was not precisely true, of course. We were at the before mentioned Comfort Inns and Suites in Elizabethtown, Kentucky but we were in our region. She thought it was funny but I wasn't kidding. I'll take dialect but I only have an accent outside of the southeastern United Stated.

I notice that with each generation, dialects become a little more homogeneous. My mother and my aunts said forevah, nevah, and ambah—that's forever, never, and amber—but my cousins and I do not. We pronounce our er's. It can't be helped. I wouldn't even want to help it because unnatural dialect is not attractive.

But this set me thinking about the phrases and words that have changed for me since I was a child. Like the dialect changes, it was not a conscious decision. I don't know where it came from but some where along the way:

  • supper (as the evening meal) became dinner
  • dinner (as in the noon meal) became lunch
  • housecoat became robe
  • dishrag became tea towel
  • creamed potatoes became mashed potatoes
  • bathing suit became swimsuit
  • house shoes became slippers

Unlike I was like, none of these things are bad but it makes me sad. I let these perfectly good words that were part of my natural language be replaced like garter belts and stockings. (Okay, so I'm not old enough that I ever knew anything but pantyhose but you get my drift.)

But I am willful so I have made a decision: I am taking back the dishrag and creamed potatoes.

How has your language changed?


  1. I HATE hearing "like" !!!! One time I counted a girl's use of the word and in less than ten minutes I had counted her saying it fifty times. It absolutely drives me crazy.

    Being married to an Italian Yankee, I have had some words creep into my language like "Gotz" which means "nothing" i.e. I have Gotz! Don't know if I spelled it correctly , but I like the word.

    If you notice most of the newscasters and actors strive for a Midwestern accent which is helping us to lose our regional identity. I always head to the barn and listen to the boys if I need a fresher on how to talk Southern. They don't watch news (god forbid) and don't like much television unless it's Nascar. It helps!

  2. Cheryl--I think that television does account for most of the change for everyone. I think some of my word choices changed when I met new people in college and, like you, marrying someone who is "not from" here was also an impact. I can remember debating the definitions of "toboggan" and "fetch" with him. To him, toboggan was a sled, not a hat. In his world, only dogs fetch, so he didn't really like it when I said, "While you're up, will you fetch my sparkly face powder?" He got over that. I have never given up "fetch".

    "Regional identity" is just the phrase I would have used if I had thought of it. It's important to me. I might need to come over and hang out at the barn.

  3. How about sneakers for tennis shoes? My husband still calls them sneakers. And forget toboggan - he calls it a sock hat. I have also picked up some Yiddish from his stepmother - futz for idiot; chatchgas (sp?) for little items placed around a room; connerring for complaining; the list goes on. Yeah, come and sit at the barn - those guys are a riot.

  4. In my world, a dishrag and a tea towel are two completely different things. A dishrag is what you wash dishes with; a tea towel (or dish towel) is what you dry them with.

    I like can't stand like either. It's like SO like annoying, you know. I mean, like, can't they like think of another word? Duh!


  5. LOL at the Yiddish. I love the word "verklempt."

  6. (this from Leslie)

    @Cheryl: one standard anglicization fo the word you're looking for is "tchotchkes" (trinkets/knickknacks, etc.; singular tchotchke.)

    And, like, y'know, you're all like, you don't like "like", but when I was growing up that was a legitimate regional/cultural dialect for the San Fernando Valley. Thank goodness I grew up in L.A., where we, y'know, did throw in the "y'know", but showed some reasonable discipline re: "like."

  7. So funny, Jean, and so true! Toboggans are actually a special kind of sled - I'm with The Guy.

    Also, at the grocery store: cart or buggy?

    Ms. Classy

  8. Cheryl--Tennis shoes. Never sneakers. Though, I am more inclined to say Keds or running shoes, though I do not run.

    PM--I can see that about towels. I must rethink.

    Leslie--So glad you stopped by. We could use to Yiddish lessons. I love Yiddish word but have had little exposure. I can't see you as a Valley Girl!

    Ms. Classy--Buggy, but he says cart. I have no truck with sleds.

  9. PM, I love the word verklempt. I use it! ;)

    Jean, this is so funny! My girls, one more than the other, say 'like' a lot. I chastise them about this but they just scrunch their faces at me as if I'm out of touch with the world. Long ago, it used to be rude to say, "ummm...." all the time. At one time, I had a habit of saying "you know". Hubby would tell me, "I don't know." (That remark makes me go into further depth, to his chagrin.)

    Language is a funny thing. It reveals so much about us and yet, can stereotype us too. Having grown up as an Army brat, I've never been told I have one particular accent over another. Mine has always been a Heinz 57 variety, a little here, a bit there learned and then assimulated. I'm quite in awe of southern women who speak so eloguently and well.

  10. So what do you call the place where you wash your clothes? I grew up in Alabama, and call it a laundromat. My husband grew up in Arkansas, and calls it a washateria. And at my house, you wash the dishes with a dishrag, and you dry them with a dishtowel. And I use a buggy at the store. Dahlin'

  11. Hmmm, I don't think my family was evah the nevah type. We were always, and still are, the "fixin' to" or "Yonder" type.

    Now I know why my mother always called the noon meal dinner.

  12. Kathy--I am interested in that "ummmmm" thing but I'm not surprised that you know it--espeically if it was during the Regency!

    Heather--I once had a boyfriend who said washateria. He lived in Lawrence Co. I don't know if he had any Arkansas roots. Maybe it's an Arkansas and Lawrence Co thing.

    Beth--Believe me, there is plenty of "fixin' to" and "yonder" in my family too. I say it now. Perfectly good words. Let's not forget "your mama and them".