Expat Living: "In search of an Ozark dialect"
My most recent column for the Korea Herald's Expat Living section has posted online, but finding it there would be a chore since the site doesn't allow for direct links to specific articles, so I'm reposting it here for your edification, entertainment, and convenience:
As for those who prefer not to reach me at my blog . . . well, too late now for regrets, but you can leave a comment expressing your dissatisfaction and informing me just how wrong I am -- a point that my Expat Living column will deal with next week, by the way.In search of an Ozark dialectAmerican folklorist Vance Randolph, famous for "Pissing in the Snow" and getting off Scot-free, not only collected and published those off-color Ozark stories for which he is known, but also did groundbreaking scholarly work in 1929 on the Ozark dialect.
On field trips throughout the Ozarks in the southern United States, Randolph encountered many unusual words and expressions, much as did I growing up in those same rough hills, but I no longer remain convinced of a specifically Ozark dialect, though I currently have time to reconsider as I show my family around these mountains for two weeks.
In my youth, I yearned to believe that we Ozarkers spoke our own dialect, and I imagined myself to have uncovered empirical evidence during the summer of '76, when I turned nineteen and was working as a chainman for a surveying crew in the wild Ozark woodlands.
Mostly, my job entailed lugging chain, a surveyor's level, hatchet, plumb-bob, hammer, laths, stakes, and other equipment through thickets where I had to cut lines, or up and down steep hollows which threatened havoc to our measurements.
One tough place stretched along the isolated hollow of a spring-fed river where our crew sought a corner marker to set up the theodolite, and where I learned an unfamiliar word. Scrambling for our bearings, we asked an old hillbilly if he knew where the marker, a metal spike driven into the ground, was located.
"Yeah," he replied, his face wrinkling with concentration, "but ye got to go antigogglin' over that thar hill to get thar."
Anti-what!? I thought. But it was pretty clear what the old man intended -- the way was not straight, as we had figured all along.
But, for assurance, when I arrived home that evening, I checked with my septuagenarian grandmother, who confirmed that the word meant "crooked."
I imagined that I had found support for Randolph's thesis, but I eventually stumbled across antigogglin' in other Southern states, and gradually inferred that the word characterizes Southern speech patterns, rather than any specifically Ozark one.
This conclusion has ruined my life, and I have taken to staying out nights drinking to drown my hillbilly sorrows in moonshine and to write guilt-ridden songs like "Day Breakin'":Oh, all night, I been out drankin',Maybe if I just keep on writing such antigogglin' songs, I can create my own durgenal Ozark dialect, but I shall have to face my tetchous wife to do so.
now mah head's as thick as clay,
So I 'spec' mah woman's waitin'
with some high-tone words tuh say,
But I'd need uhn extra drank
tuh help me face that judgment day!
-- an' another shot uh whiskey
jus' might warsh mah sins away.
Oh, the mornin' light is growin',
but mah head fades more like dusk,
An' mah wife could blast mah lies
away like wind'll blast a husk,
Yeh, the judgment that's a-waitin'
can be swift an' sure an' brusque
-- so, jus' one more shot uh whiskey,
save mah soul from gettin' cussed.
Oh, the crack uh dawn is creakin'
an' mah min' could crack in two
At the thought uh whut that scornful
woman's scorchin' speech can do
-- She got words as sharp as arrows,
an' she aims each one so true!
-- yet uhn extra shot uh whiskey
save me on this rendevous.
Oh, the sun is fully risen,
an' it burns mah eyes like mace,
Hence mah wife is surely wearin'
now her godforsaken face,
So I'll need a further drank
afore I step into that place!
-- an' uhn added shot uh whiskey
jus' may bring mah soul tuh grace.
Yeh, all night, I been out drankin,
thus mah head's as thick as clay,
So I 'spec' mah woman's waitin',
got them high-tone words tuh say,
Sure I need that extra drank
tuh help me on this judgment day!
-- now, that partin' shot uh whiskey,
may it warsh mah sins away.
Jeffery is a professor at Kyung Hee University and can be reached through his blog, Gypsy Scholar, at gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com -- Ed.