Tuesday, February 7, 2012

RemembeRED: Colloquialisms

Prompt: So, in the spirit of dialect, slang, and turns of phrase, this week’s RemembeRED prompt is: Write a piece of creative non-fiction in which turns of phrase, dialect, slang, or colloquialisms feature prominently.

As an Army brat, my family and I moved often.  I was the new kid at school often, as such I was forced to develop some survival skills.  Sort of like a chameleon tries to blend into their surroundings.  I couldn't necessarily change my looks on a whim; my mother would have had an epic conniption.   We didn't have the money for me to run out to buy new clothes, either.  So how does an awkward kid try to fit in on that first day of school? 


I became what I call a linguistic empath.  I would listen to the language being spoken around me, in the cafeteria, the library, and the classroom.  Many, many sounds from many mouths. I would close my eyes and my brain would begin to separate various words into their sounds.  Then I would step out  on to the social ledge and mingle, imitating the sounds and accents of the people I spoke to.   

When I lived in Germany, my consonants became chips of stone, and my vowels developed a tendency toward spitting, which drove my mother insane. But I managed a passable German accent, even if I never got the language. 

Then we moved to Texas, and no one seemed to have any weird words or colloquialism.  There wasn't really much to master, I thought.  Oh, there were a few people I knew who had thick Southern accents; when I hung out with them I ended up sounding like Scarlet O'Hara.  But I didn't think that I had picked up much extra. 

Until we moved to Silver Spring, Md. I was unprepared  for the hoopla.  The people I often spoke to were very quick to stop any conversation in which I had inserted any word or phrase that was 'foreign' to them. 

"You're WHAT?" they would say.

"I said that I'm fixin' to," I would respond, not understanding their response.  Apparently "fixin' to" was not indiginous to the language here, and so it was the subject of rigorous and repetitive study.  The other unfamiliar word that I'd used, "y'all" was determined to be "cool".  "Y'all" was actually my ticket into this new society.  The kids began allowing me to ask questions about the local culture and to make new friends. 

I was, at least until a new person came along, pretty cool.


  1. That is such a neat reflection!

  2. How cool! I moved around too- never abroad- but always managed to pick up tidbits of accents everywhere I went. I would eventually lose them after the initial linguistic shock, but when I'd call my friends back home, they'd be totally annoyed by it. ;-)

  3. I love your metaphors for language. The "chips of stone" and "linguistic empath" especially stood out.

  4. Great descriptions in this, I love how language was your passport to fitting in. :)

  5. Ok, 3rd time trying....

    You would love it here. You should read my post to see why. LOL. I adore this!!!


    (Since your comment as profiles dont work for me and I dont use blogger anymore). ;)


  6. I'm a language chameleon too, but its more about contagion for me and less about survival. I giggle if people are laughing, I cry if people are crying, and when I was in Ireland, I caught the brogue so bad that for two weeks after at home, I started lying when people asked me where I was from because no one understood how a two week vacation could alter one's identity.

    Anyway, fantastic post. You have a beautiful, descriptive style that makes for a wonderful read.

  7. I've lived in four different states (all southern) and I had to re-learn slang and accent in all four-- including Texas! Words like 'beasty', 'talking' and 'kicker' held completely different meanings down here. The first time someone called me beasty I was ready to deck them! Apparently it means I look strong? Whatever. They quickly learned to keep their 'beasty' opinion of me to themselves!

    My favorite state accent, though, was from Tennessee. I was the only one of the family to pick up and hold on to the deep-southern accent. I've lost it over the years but it comes back when I'm not paying attention.

    Fun post!

  8. You made me think of one. Fresh on the south scene from the north I had a friend that I met in our apartment complex. She said fixin' and finna - which I was able to figure out pretty easily what it meant. One day she said, "I like to fall off the chair." I said, "Why do you like to fall off the chair?" We were both young - second grade. She didn't understand what I was asking so she didn't laugh at me - we just went on about whatever we were doing. I eventually figured she didn't really "like" these things. "Like to" meant almost. Enjoyed your take on the prompt.


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