Appalachia has a unique and, I think, incredibly special way of speaking. It hearkens back to Elizabethan England with a solid Scottish underpinning and even a dash of Chaucer now and again.
I don’t use TOO much dialect in my stories since it can bog readers down, but I do love throwing some in here and there–hither and yon. Sometimes without even realizing it’s dialect unique to my part of the world! In an early manuscript a character mentioned her “ticky heart.” One editor tried to fix that and made it a “tricky heart.” Nope. Ticky is just a way of saying “not right” or “temperamental.”
I recently read an essay by Wylene P. Dial that shed light on the mountain way of speaking. A WV transplant, she was a teacher and helped found the Mountain Heritage Program of the Appalachian Center at West Virginia University. Her writing is delightful as well as insightful. Here are a few items she highlighted.
THAT DOESN’T MEAN WHAT YOU THINK IT MEANS
- Clever – neighborly or accommodating – She’s not the sharpest stick in the bunch but she sure is clever when there’s a need.
- Reverend – strong – It’s almighty reverend out here–the dog got sprayed by a skunk last night. I’ve heard this one and thought it was a way of poking fun at how serious the clergy can be.
- Allow – think, say, or suppose – She allowed he was right–for once! I STILL hear this one.
- ill – angry – He’s iller than a bee-stung bull. If you’re in the south, you’ll hear this one often.
- I don’t care to – I don’t mind doing that – I don’t care to help grandma in the garden when she asks.
HOLD-OVERS FROM THE PAST
- Blinked – Spoiled milk is called blinked or blinky from the days when witches were thought to have the evil eye and could spoil milk with just a glance or a blink of the eye.
- Feathered into him – This phrase for a fist fight or even a verbal attack goes back to when your enemy might use a long bow to do you in with a feathered arrow.
- Hippoed – Jonathan Swift thought this word too slangy for someone who’s suffering from an imaginary ailment, nonetheless it was used by the English society of his day. A hippo is a hypochondriac.You can dig deeper on that one in this POST from the Blind Pig and the Acorn.
Tune in next week for more insight into Appalachian dialect! Any you’ve heard that I have yet to mention?