Monday, December 24, 2018

Short rounds: of southern accents and cancerous snapping turtles

I've a free moment between family gatherings and outings, so here's a short rounds post on Talk Southern to Me, as well as David Sedaris' new book Calypso.

First up, Talk Southern To Me.   As mentioned a few days ago,  I was interested in the book because its author produces a series on YouTube called "Sh%t Southern Women Say".  Talk Southern to Me is similar, a bit of southern culture and humor, which has chapters on southern manners and culture but is mostly about language; every chapter closes with sayings related to it, and what's not covered there is included in a list of words and their translation at the end. Southerners have a distinct family of dialects, whether we're from the country-club-and-family-money society, or the trailers, muddin', or outlaw-country side of the woods. Southerners, of course, will see themselves and their families in every chapter, and -- depending on how many Yanks they count in their circle of friends -- may be startled to learn that more of their use of language is distinctly southern than they thought. (Expressions like "He used to could", which a Michigan friend of mine of mine was baffled about, are an example.)   Although Fowler is very general at times, I love discovering southern creators who are enthusiastic about preserving the distinct culture of the South in a positive, fun way, instead of edging into prickly defensiveness. Particularly amusing was the section that potent expression, "Bless your/her/his/their heart",  can be used for everything from sincere sympathy to a manners-approved method of gossiping.

David Sedaris, for those who don't know, is an American-born humorist whose essays and short fiction usually evoke a strong sense of pathos, often being unbelievably personal, so much so that discomfort turns to giggles.  Sedaris is an acquired taste, I think, as if a reader is introduced to him in the wrong way they might be left thinking "Why would anyone read him?". He has a strong taste for the odd and unusual, and enjoys derailing social scripts by  asking taxi drivers about local cockfighting laws, or inquiring of supermarket clerks if they have any godchildren. His latest collections of musings, Calypso, seems to be inspired by the onset of old age, as he and his siblings cope with not only the decline of their once-formidable father (who now needs constant care and is alarmingly pleasant to be around,  a distinct change from his forbidding childhood presence), and the suicide of their sister Tiffany.  David himself had a momentary scare with cancer, but the tumor was easily isolated and removable, and he happily fed it to snapping turtles after finding a doctor who was willing to do the operation for him and give him the tumor. Apparently it's illegal for surgeons to give people anything that comes out of them during surgery (presumably C-section babies are an exemption).   Sedaris had hoped to feed the tumor to a snapping turtle which had a cancerous growth on its head (his favorite turtle), but the cheeky reptile disappeared during the winter.  I enjoyed Calypso well enough, but I'm probably too young to appreciate it in full given the general theme.   My favorite Sedaris story remains "Six to Eight Black Men", his rendering of Christmas in the Netherlands.

Oh, and apparently the Southern Women Channel just posted a new episode not a month ago to celebrate the end of hurricane season:

"Lord, I hope it don't flood the Wal-Mart."
"Didje git your milk and bread?"
"Fill up the tub so we can flush the commode!"
"Bless her heart, she's wearin' white rain boots after Labor Day."
"Pray for me, I gotta tell my husband they postponed deer season." 


  1. what does "he used to could" mean? i think i'd have trouble in Georgia...

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