Friday, October 17, 2014

"To Tell a Story"

When I was a child in the Ozarks, the expression "to tell a story" meant "to lie." Of course, one could be a storyteller and tell a story without being accused of lying so long as there were no aspect of deception involved. Anyway, I don't hear that expression much anymore, but I see that its use in the larger English-speaking community still lingers, for the sociologist Francesca Polletta notes it in her book It Was Like a Fever: Storytelling in Protest and Politics (University of Chicago Press, 2006): "to 'tell a story' means to lie" (page 175). A certain Larry Winebrenner also notes - in an Amazon Customer Review - that "To 'tell a story' meant 'to lie.'" Also, a blogger writing in a blog titled ChiTown Girl notes that "telling a story means lying" (February 11, 2009). This sense of "story" as "lie" seems even stronger in the Appalachians (and Ozarks), as explained by A.L. Burge in his blog Appalachian English for the date July 29, 2005, "Illiteracy in Appalachia" (in which he cites the scholar Shirley Brice Heath):
Another cultural difference between the Appalachian dialect and the standard dialect of the educational system lies in the concept of lexical elements. For instance, Appalachians have one concept of the word story, while the school environment entertains another concept of the same word. Heath found that when teaching reading, teachers in Appalachia would occasionally ask students to “make up a story,” but students were sometimes reluctant to complete the task, which could have been interpreted by teachers as inability to complete to do so. However, the reason for the reluctance was a result of the lexical understanding of the word story in Appalachian English; in AE telling a story means lying, which is punishable in the Appalachian culture.
Burge cites pages 294 and 296 of Heath's Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms (New York: Cambridge, 1996). I recall this strong meaning of "to tell a story" and always grew worried as a child when an adult accused me of "telling a story" because I felt guilty just by hearing the accusation and feared that I would sound guilty even if I denied the accusation!

I felt the same way as a child when being accused of 'sputin' some adult's word - i.e., "disputing" in the sense of challenging the adult's veracity.

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At 4:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you'r story'in agin! Aint no nuthin like what you ben say'in.

Heard those all my growing up years. I am sure they are still regular comments back home, but I seldom hear the story to lie comparison in NWA.


At 5:14 AM, Blogger Dario Rivarossa said...

>the expression "to tell a story" meant "to lie"

This already happens in my dialect, from Piedmont, N-W Italy, near France: "cuntè d' storie."

P.S. The sculpture is wonderful.

At 6:24 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jay, I figured that the Ozark expression stemmed from the Appalachian one, or that both regions share a Scotch-Irish expression.

Maybe NW Arkansas has more people from other areas, i.e., outsiders.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:31 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eh? "Cuntè d'storie"? "Cuntè d'storie"?! Thunderation! I wasn't talkin' 'bout no dirty stories!

(. . . though I suppose "cuntè" is related to "account.")

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:58 PM, Blogger Dario Rivarossa said...

>though I suppose "cuntè" is related to "account."

Yeah, that is pussy-ble.

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Bleh . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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