Please, Y’all

Yesterday at work I said something to my team that ended with “… y’all.” Just as it was almost over the threshhold of my mouth I hesitated for one second. In that way that one can think about a million things in a split second, I thought about Atlanta. I thought about how stubbornly I clung to the midwestern “you guys” for almost a year. My roommate at the time – Andrew – was from Charleston and once said to me, “You have no idea how ugly ‘you guys’ sounds to southern ears.”

I finally tipped over on “y’all” when my other roommate’s – John’s – cat escaped. Andrew and I were in charge of Gwendolyn, who is the world’s most unfriendly cat. We came home from the grocery store one night and as Andrew followed me in with a bag of groceries, Gwendolyn just tipped right out. I considered this to be primarily John’s fault, as he hadn’t gotten around to getting her fixed, and she was desperate to get out and, you know, meet boys. But John adored his mean cat, and I was full of dread about breaking the news. When I finally did he was a good sport about it, but was clearly upset. The upset continued for days, and all of our searches produced no cats of note. One night — about five days after Gwen got out – John and I were sitting in my bedroom playing a video game. Andrew had just left to meet some friends. Minutes later he burst into my bedroom and said, “Y’all, I just saw the cat.” We all three barreled outside and started calling and searching. And sure enough, she came home with us that night. Pregnant.

But when Andrew said that he saw her, and I was suddenly hopeful that we could get John’s cat back, that little starburst of joy I felt made a home in my heart for “y’all” and I adopted it from them on. It wasn’t intentional, but that’s obviously what happened.

And now, because I miss Atlanta and still consider it as much home as anything, I’m going to keep it.

My other homage to hometowns past is “please.” Everyone says please. But only in Cincinnati, Ohio do they said it like this. “Please?” Meaning, “please repeat yourself, I didn’t hear you.” It’s a gentle midwestern option if you don’t want to say, “What???” I love it for its delicacy. People are almost always confused when I say it, and I’ve found myself swapping in the more British “Sorry?” which more seem to get. Maybe I have Monty Python and Ab Fab to thank for that. (Speaking of, I love the British “The Office” and can’t fathom with “Spaced” hasn’t crossed over too.) But I love Cincinnati, I miss Cincinnati and I think I’m going to stick to “Please?” in its honor.

We lived in DC for a year, but I didn’t pick up any vernacular. To me, Cincinnati has heart and Atlanta has soul. I guess DC has intellect, but I never felt that engaged there. I’m sure part of it was because we didn’t have lots of super-close friend there (although certainly some). But that doesn’t account for all of it.

Now we’re in Manhattan. It’s so multi-culti here that it seems impossible to identify city-specific language. We live in a Dominican neighborhood and sometimes I do notice “Mira!” floating through my brain when I want to draw attention to something. But I don’t say it, it’s not part of my vocabulary. And I admit that I’d feel conspicuously silly as the whitest girl on the block using Spanish words when I don’t speak the language.

I wonder if my adoption of local words is any indication of how long I’ll stay in a place. I didn’t even last a year in DC. Probably more than many people, the words I choose and the way I speak are indicative of my state of mind. Not in an emotional sense, that’s true of everyone. But in a way that speaks to how I’m relating to my surroundings and my attitude about them.

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8 responses to this post.

  1. HI! Sorry, you don’t know me, but I tripped over this way when I saw you comment in ‘s journal, and this entry REALLY hit a chord with me. I’m from South Alabama, lived three or so years in Hot-Lanta, then found my way to Cleveland, where I’ve lived two or three more. The ULTIMATE caveat? I have almost NO southern accent. I just decided I didn’t want it anymore when I was 12 or 13 years old. And I borrow CONSTANTLY from other languages and dialects.
    So I say all that to say this: The smooth, slow, Southern approach to Cinnci’s “Please?” and England’s “Sorry?” and everywhere else’s “What?!?!” is the classic “DO what?” Which I know only too well, because it’s the last tell-tale Southernism left in my vocabulary. I walk around all day sounding like a fairly well education Everyman from Anywhere, and then someone says something I can’t quite make out, and I respond “Do what?”
    Very annoying.
    However, I do atleast manage to make it sound like “Do. What?” and not the usual southern pronunciation of “Dee-ewe whuh-hut?”

    Reply

  2. HI! Sorry, you don’t know me, but I tripped over this way when I saw you comment in ‘s journal, and this entry REALLY hit a chord with me. I’m from South Alabama, lived three or so years in Hot-Lanta, then found my way to Cleveland, where I’ve lived two or three more. The ULTIMATE caveat? I have almost NO southern accent. I just decided I didn’t want it anymore when I was 12 or 13 years old. And I borrow CONSTANTLY from other languages and dialects.
    So I say all that to say this: The smooth, slow, Southern approach to Cinnci’s “Please?” and England’s “Sorry?” and everywhere else’s “What?!?!” is the classic “DO what?” Which I know only too well, because it’s the last tell-tale Southernism left in my vocabulary. I walk around all day sounding like a fairly well education Everyman from Anywhere, and then someone says something I can’t quite make out, and I respond “Do what?”
    Very annoying.
    However, I do atleast manage to make it sound like “Do. What?” and not the usual southern pronunciation of “Dee-ewe whuh-hut?”

    Reply

    • It’s funny that you say that. Because I got deep into the “Do what?” habit and my friend Mick would always make a huge fuss every time I said it, effectively breaking me of it. I never noticed picking it up in the first place.
      My friend Charles is from Frog Pond, North Carolina and when I’m feeling homesick for the south he’s always very good about channeling his Aunt Addie May for me, which is a great comfort.
      So we have both Atlanta and Ohio in common. Feel free to come by any time.

      Reply

  3. It’s funny that you say that. Because I got deep into the “Do what?” habit and my friend Mick would always make a huge fuss every time I said it, effectively breaking me of it. I never noticed picking it up in the first place.
    My friend Charles is from Frog Pond, North Carolina and when I’m feeling homesick for the south he’s always very good about channeling his Aunt Addie May for me, which is a great comfort.
    So we have both Atlanta and Ohio in common. Feel free to come by any time.

    Reply

  4. Thanks! Mind if I be-friend? Else I will completely forget and never drop by again. Uhm… that came out wrong. It’s not that I’ll be mad, just that I know how my memory works. ::blush::

    Reply

  5. Oh please do. And I shall Friend you as well.

    Reply

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