I knew I was Back South when the doctor looked in my mouth. I had spent 18 years Way Up North (sounds like Alaska; it was Omaha), and we had just moved back to the South, to North Carolina. My throat was killing me, so I went to a doctor.
After he inserted the standard popsicle stick and shone his little burglar’s flashlight beam into my mouth, he uttered the words that brought me back to my roots: “Yup, it looks right red.”
I had lived Way Up North for so long that I was unsure at first, and with my mouth still agape I gurgled a “Huh?” back at him. The repetition confirmed that he had not, in fact, said it was “bright red” or “quite red,” but “right red.” I knew better than to wonder if there is a wrong red. I knew I was home.
Many generous readers have sent me some of their own favorite Southernisms. There are too many to include them all here, but I would like to mention a few. Reader Nelda wrote me that she had spent a good amount of time living in my hometown in Texas: “It took some adjusting when I moved to Houston and found out that when a person leaned too far back in his chair, he might pitch ofen the porch or even tump out into the yard.”
Yes, Nelda, yes! I never use “ofen” myself, but I admit to saying “tump” freely my whole life. It takes a few years for some transplants from Way Up North to take to the use of “tump” (not to mention to take to the phrase “take to”), but it is, many admit, worth the effort. Even my wife has learned our ways and now knows that things are liken (yes, liken) to get tumped, or even tumped over. These days she herself can be heard to say, “Will you please tump over that bowl to get the water out?”
Obviously the software I’m using to write this does not recognize the wonderfulness of “tump.” It gives a red jagged warning underline, and it suggests that what I REALLY want to say is “tamp, thump, trump, stump or dump.” Nuh-uh.
Reader Watts tells about hearing “Hit’s a-comin’ up a storm,” whereas Reader Harry reports a similar phrase with “come a cloud,” meaning a large thunderstorm. In Houston, the worst possible weather news, other than hurricanes from the Gulf, was usually stated simply as, “a nor’easter’s comin’.”
Reader Harry also sent me a phrase from his Drives-Me-Crazy collection. He says this: “In giving directions, people often say to go to the third red light and turn left instead saying to go to the third traffic light. When I hear this expression, I am wont to ask, what if the light is green? I have heard this only in the South.”
Gosh. I guess if that traffic light is green, you keep going until you hit a third red one. Ha. Speaking of only in the South, until I moved to North Carolina in 1986, I had never heard “Good to go.” Now, of course, it’s everywhere. It has a nice folksy sound to it, and it somehow expresses more than merely saying one is “ready.”
Readers Randal and Kimberly added a footnote to my mention of the Southern pronunciation of “Wal-Mart” as “Wal-Mark.” They say: “Recently you spoke about ‘Wal-Mark.’ Around here, people go to the Wal-Mart, the Food Lion.” They’re right about that “the.” I do hear “You can get it at the Wal-Mark.” Sometimes it’s even plural, as in “the Wal-Marks.”
Remember Reader Watts who told us hit was comin’ up a storm? He also wrote me about this one: — “My battrey's done died on me!” Well, that’s a cryin’ shame right there. Or, as my grandmother would have put it, “Well, foot.”
I need to tell you and Watts that yesterday a Summerfield woman told me that the rain on her farm this summer “put a hurtin’ on that crick yonder.” I looked, and sure ‘nuff, that crick done run so hard it were plumb tuckered out. It’s calmed down some, but it won’t never be the same.
Finally, this morning a nice woman said to me: “Are you the guy what writes that column in the paper?” Naturally, I gave the only appropriate response: “Are you the one what reads it?”