Living, working and growing up in the South, I love the sights of our region. The magnolias are distinctive and the weather is always warm keeping things lush and green most of the year.
But there are also the sounds to enjoy, too. And I’m not talking about the cicadas in the summer and the marching bands and referees whistles of fall’s football season. I’m talking about the way us Southerners talk.
Here are a few examples I’ve noticed throughout the years, and I’m sure you can relate to.
Fellow vs. Feller vs. Fella
While these three terms may all seem similar there are very important differences between them to the trained ears of a Southerner.
A fellow is a righteous and honorable sort. He is a man that aspires to greatness and a true gentleman who always wants to do things the right way. A fellow pretty much always does the right thing, even when it isn't popular. Fellows are usually very hard workers and always take the high road. They can easily deny their own ego and self-interests and work hard to be the men they're supposed to be.
A feller, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of everything I just mentioned. Fellers are a shifty, seedy and shady bunch. Prone to backsliding, they're always looking for the easy way out and in doing as little as possible to maintain. A feller having scruples and honor? Not hardly. Basically fellers are just good ole-fashioned no-accounts. It's all about them; they care nothing of honor or doing the right thing.
A fella, the category that this writer — and most of us, I think, for that matter — belongs to, is someone who tries very hard to be a fellow but has the tendency, at times, to be a feller. We can touch greatness and are usually doing things the right way, giving us a shade of being a fellow. However, sometimes we just can’t help ourselves from getting out of our own way, unfortunately finding ourselves as fellers some of the time. Hey, it happens. As Ray Goff would say, we just try to "work hard to get better." Usually we do okay; sometimes it depends on the weather. Or the state of the world, or how much bourbon we've consumed, or how the Georgia Bulldogs are doing in a given season and whether or not we lose to Auburn, Florida or Tech.
Bonus: A felon is a fella or a feller, and sometimes — very rarely — a fellow, who gets caught and convicted by the Law, for a serious example of being a feller.
The Pen-Pin Phenomenon
A pen is a writing instrument; a pin is, well, a push-pin. You know the difference. But in terms of how we say both of these words, there isn't any difference, right? Say them both out loud. They're the same. But that's just if you're a Southerner
If you're from the Midwest, Northeast or out West, you actually pronounce those two words differently. It's a fact, and it's officially known as the "Pen-Pin Merger" — a phenomenon where people in the South, except for Savannah, New Orleans, and the Southern portion of Florida, say these two words exactly the same way. The rest of the country does not, with the exception of an area in and around Bakersfield, California. That’s a true story.
I've always been a sucker for dialect and linguistics. So, next time you write with a pen or stick something on your wall with a pin, try saying them differently — the way you are technically supposed to — and then just see how silly you sound.
How we say things ‘round here
Speaking of the differences between how we say things 'round here, and how the rest of the country says them, here are few more:
(And in the spirit of full disclosure, I got a good bit of info on the following from some research done by a professor at N.C. State, Joshua Katz, for a study he did a few years back.)
In the South we say the word caramel with three syllables, pretty much the rest of the country says it only with two.
In the South we call it slaw. The rest of the country only uses the word coleslaw.
We all know about this one: We say y'all when referring to a group of people here in the South. There's a buffer around the South in which they say you all. Up North and in other far-away places, they actually say, you guys. Wow ... they're so funny and strange, aren't they?
What sounds worse? Saying soda like in the Northeast, or pop like they do in the Midwest? Let's just call it a draw. And contrary to popular belief, most Southerners I know don't call all soft drinks Coke. We just call them soft drinks, or refer to them by their brand name.
And we all know that when the sun shines while it's raining out then it means that "the devil is beating his wife," right? Well, apparently the rest of the country doesn't say that. Most places don't have a term for it at all. But in the upper Midwest, Northeast and in south Florida, they actually call it a "sunshower." Is that not the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard of? (And yes, I just ended that sentence with a preposition, and it felt great! It's always so nice to break arbitrary and asinine rules. I do it every chance I get.)
And my personal favorite, and this is one I wasn't aware of, is that the South and a good bit of America uses the term water fountain. The rest of the country uses a drinking fountain. Okay, fair enough. However, and this is pretty much only true in the eastern part of Wisconsin and in the state of Rhode Island, they call it a bubbler. A bubbler? What? Seriously?
While possibly at times being guilty of being a legend in his own mind, McCart aspires to one day be able to fully and truly articulate that peculiar essence of what The Esoteric South is all about. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.