Word of the Week – yonder

Writers are tempted to paint the portrait of a true Southern lady or gennemun with that soft, humid voice reminiscent of Faulkner. Most experts warn us not to try it. Mark Twain got away with it, but that was a long time ago.

We know what the accent sounds like. They teach it to actors, according to http://www.asiteaboutnothing.net/w_southern.html  Linguists distinguish seven or eight distinct versions of the Southern accent, with some commonalities that any American citizen would recognize:

  • the substitution of d sound for s, as in iden = isn’t, waden = wasn’t
  • dropping the r sound, as in buhd = bird
  • drawl, which is the long lazy vowel sound, , for example, the long i sound pronounced as ah. Try saying “nice white rice” Southern style.
  • lilt, which is the rise and fall of the voice on the elongated vowel, as in ca alm = calm, or layuf = laugh.

Even if it’s a true rendition of the dialect, we also know the reader won’t tolerate dialogue where the detective notes that the evidence “Just dudden add up.”

A better way to bring the character to life, they say, is the judicious use of the colorful expressions unique to the regional dialect. Some may be over used, like “fixin’ to” go to lunch. And some might be so peculiar they’d look like showing off. Example: “I got shed of my old car just before the flood hit.”

Favorites I’m saving for the next opportunity to write a Southern character: the double modal, wherein the speaker piles on modal verbs:

“You might should have cleared that with the D.A. before you contacted the witness.”

“I usta could do things like that, but he stopped taking my calls.”

Other favorites:

“I got a mind to go out and talk to those little hoodlums.”

“You best not try it.”

“I’m standing in need of an explanation.”

My friend mentioned, “We’re in high cotton now,” meaning, times are good because the high cotton could be picked without straining your back.

An all time favorite is the word yonder. It comes to us from German and Dutch, by way of Middle England and it’s fallen out of use, but isn’t it a fine word, indicating some location beyond here or there? If a character says, “Yonder it lies,” we’ll know we’re in the south, quite possibly, in a gospel church meeting.

This brings up the question: should it be, “way over yonder” or “away over yonder?” Online experts say, “way over yonder” is best, with way being used in this case as an adverb instead of a noun. Maybe so. We do have a new use of “way” as an adverb, meaning extremely, as in, “the Southern tea is way sweet.” Merriam Webster doesn’t even designate it as slang.