Let’s Talk with James M Jackson

Accents and peculiar word choices
By James M Jackson

JMJ_20141013_0002_aDo you notice accents and peculiar word choices? Not yours, of course, because none of us have accents; it’s the other folks.

I’ll soon make my southern migration away from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with its Scandinavian oo’s, spoken through the nose, and sentences that end with eh?—as though we were a southern Canadian outpost.

On the way south, I’ll spend time in Madison, Wisconsin (You betcha) and the Greater Cincinnati area (where Please? means I didn’t quite hear you, could you repeat that?) We’ll end our journey in Savannah (home of y’all and the more inclusive all y’all).

When I write with a specific location in mind, I try to include a smidgeon of dialogue peculiar to the area.

What’s your favorite regional speech?


  1. Paula Fulkerson says

    I’m from Kentucky, been here all my life with a few short term exceptions to Texas, NM and Utah. Visited several other states. I just recently made my first trip to the New England states, New Jersey to be specific. I love hearing how different people talk, but my favorite are the cajuns. I met some Canadians while in Jersey and enjoyed listening to them, but cajun has always been a favorite.

  2. I grew up in Los Angeles. Boring. When I was 13, I visited my aunt and 9-year-old cousin in New York. My cousin asked my aunt why I talked “funny.” When my aunt said, “What do you mean,” my cousin replied. “She says ‘coffee’ instead of CAW-fee.”

    At family gathering, it would be more likely to hear German or Yiddish expressions, although Yiddish was so common, I didn’t realize words like dreck, schlep, and schmutz weren’t universally understood.

    • jmjackson054 says

      I went to a suburban high school and had exactly one Jewish classmate. It wasn’t until I moved to northern New Jersey to work that I first heard and thoroughly appreciated the rich Yiddish lexicon.

  3. I’m always intrigued by dialects and accents. I’m writing New Orleans in my current work in progress, and watched some Justin Wilson to get me some flavor. Things like “That’s for true” and “in a good humor” made me smile.

    • jmjackson054 says

      I remember my first taxi ride from the airport into New Orleans — which is how my wife pronounced it. The cabbie turns around (while driving on the highway), flashes her a grand smile, and says, “It’s Nawlins, darlin’, Nawlins.”

  4. maggietoussaint says

    There are clichés in every vernacular, but it took me a long time to learn what they were because everything else in the speech around me was so colorful. For example, “I’d rather fling ten cats in the mud than to walk a mile in that lowdown, belly crawler’s shoes. I’d rather eat oysters blindfolded and tear my hands to pieces than spend one itty bitty second of my life in that skunky, pinch-faced, narrow minded redneck’s company. And let me tell you, that ain’t all, not by a long shot.” Course when you hear all that preamble, you know a really good story will be next.

    • jmjackson054 says

      Those drip of southern charm; in the north they mostly just add additional adjectives to the descriptive noun. 🙂

  5. jmjackson054 says

    Cadences are one big difference from one place to another. Another are word choices used as spacers, a-yup.

  6. I love the idioms and cadences of my native tongue, Southern vernacular. Which of course comes in dozens of flavors. But I also love the salty preciseness of my Northeastern friends’ various accents and vocabulary — there is poetry there.