Contact Us
Your Municipal Officers
Dear Barack,
Puzzle me this…
South Speak
Wormy Watermelon
Mourning in America*

Contact Us
Municipal Contacts



The Northerner’s Guide to the Southern Lexicon


It’s been nearly ten years since I packed up my rented moving van and motored South. I came on the wings of love, so the five day trip – which was also my honeymoon – was breathlessly romantic. Then I got out of the truck in Aberdeen, Mississippi.

It was July. Need I say more?

As if the heat and the humidity were not enough of an adjustment for this Montana girl, there were immediately evident language differences which convinced me we had passed through a cosmic fault zone somewhere near Iowa and had landed upon another planet.

I’m the Communication Kid. I have a fairly firm grip on the English language and can sometimes even respond in one or two other tongues if such is required of me so, naturally, I figured I could handle a little South-Speak. I knew enough to expect some “Y’alls” and “All y’alls.” I even expected to “reckon” from time to time. I did not, however, anticipate being faced with such an entirely daunting communication challenge.

In time, I learned that the four wheeled vehicle used in grocery stores to convey foodstuffs from aisle to aisle and out the door is NOT a grocery cart. It’s a buggy.

My kitchen range has four eyes and not the first burner.

I do not take my mother to the Doctor’s office. I now carry her there.

I no longer plug-in the Christmas lights, I plug them up – an interesting concept to me who heretofore only plugged up kitchen sinks and the occasional toilet.

I now pull the door to, fix to accomplish daily tasks, and, from time to time,  in the course of conversation I abbreviate the latter term to “finna” which is, of course, an even cooler and much more colloquial way of saying “preparing to...”

Almost instantly, it became apparent that there was a larger problem with my ability to communicate in this new world. Black people, with whom I’d had nearly no previous intercourse (in any application of the verb,) speak an entirely different language. I guess Oprah and her similarly pigmented colleagues take lessons or something. In case you had not yet noticed, newsy-actorish black folks speak just like..well…Northerners!  Such is not the case in the South. I actually heard two black women whispering about another who was speaking in a newsy-actorish way on the telephone to a client. The two, in scorn and revulsion accused the third girl of “talking all white.” That confused me completely.

First of all, most black people in Aberdeen speak backwards. It’s interesting and colorful (no pun intended,) but rings very discordant in the unprepared Northern ear. They never “ask” a question they “axt” it. Nor do they string the words together in the traditional English manner. Where I might ask, “Where is the tapioca?” they say, “Where it is?”

Black people in Aberdeen don’t LIVE anyplace. They “stays,” as in,  “Where you stays?”

Additionally, they have an entire dictionary full of words which are meant to be spoken in English, but are abbreviated so thoroughly that it was impossible for me to sort it all out in the beginning. Here is a short list:

Fo – the number between three and five.

Do – the thing you pull to in the bathroom

Po – what ‘peoples in the projex is.’

Yo – belonging to you.

Chirrens – offspring

Babies – another word for offspring which may be used for the entire life of the child.

Mess – fecal matter of undetermined origin - as in “He done stepped in mess!”

A conversation might go something like this:

“Who he?”

“He aunTEE Shamika baby.” (What ever happened to possessive nouns like his and hers?)

“He yo cousin, (insert the “n-word" here.)”

“Ah’s finna say, he bright skin like aunTee.”

Interestingly, black people have an entire bushel basket of terms to describe the particular color of their skin. Light-skin. Bright-skin. Red-skin. (I wonder what the Native Americans in Montana would make of this news?) For my part, I have the most trouble with this one. My training in race relations came from NBC news and Sesame Street. I try very hard not to see skin color differences between white people and black people at all, so to expect me to remark upon the subtle shades from "blue-gum" black to “she so bright she almost white” is, I fear, an impossibility.

I promise it took six or eight months for me to be able to take and translate a phone message at the law office where I worked. I spent the first year in Mississippi bewildered. The good news is, after nearly a decade, I’ve managed to become almost fluent in South-Speak and am pleased to converse with my neighbors of all colors. I can even understand those whose necks are rumored to be the only affected region.

The rednecks among you have yet another dialect to which I’m catching on quite well. The problem I have with Redneck is, I don’t know how to spell the words some of my “country” friends use.

“Where did you put the potato chips?”


“Where’s the wheel-barrow?”

“Oh-vaire yonder way.”

 “How did you do that, anyway?”

“Like at.”

“Hey, Ricky Bob….why did you ride your bicycle to work? Did you get another DUI?”

“Nah. Truck wouldn’t crank. I don’t know what’s up. It crunk just fine last night…..”

I don’t think y’all can surprise me much these days. Y’orta bout got me trained.



See also The Redneck Dictionary