I Tell You What

saxby.jpgGeorgia’s changed so much in the 13 or so years since I moved away, that there’s not much left there that I miss. One thing I do miss is the accent, or at least my own version of it.

I never listen to myself talking (because, you know, I’m kind of boring), so I have to trust other people. And opinion seems to be mixed. I’ve heard “you don’t have an accent at all” as well as “you’re not from around here, are you?” and the plain old “huh?” I’m told that it comes and goes based on how much I’ve been drinking, who I’ve been talking to, and my proximity to Atlanta.

Which makes sense, because I tried so hard to get rid of it while I was growing up. Plus I watched an obscene amount of television, letting it leech away any trace of my origin just as effectively as it did my attention span. And now, as penance, I’m living in the one part of the country that has the blandest, most generic, straight-out-of-the-box made-for-TV accent possible. I’ve been listening for years, and the only distinctive thing I can hear in the SF Bay Area is the tendency to pronounce “both” like “bowlth,” and they’re not even consistent with that.

But a real Georgian accent, when it’s done right — although, as my mother claims, “I don’t know what business anybody has writing about the south if he’s been living in Massachusetts for decades.” — but a real Georgian accent done right is about as cool as you can get, at least in the United States. It’s mostly “Hey, how y’all doin’?” but with an undercurrent of “well truth be told I don’t particularly care ’cause I got plenty on my mind as it is, I tell you what.” The midwest is too much of the former; the northeast is all about the latter.

And it’s not like Texas (too much of the “yee-haw”), or the Carolinas (too much of an attempt to sound refined; the South Carolina accent always struck me as sounding fake). It isn’t like Arkansas or Oklahoma, either, since they took a good thing and stretched and beat it out to a painful-sounding extreme. And it sure as hell isn’t like what you hear on TV.

Except if you’re in Georgia, and you’re watching TV, and you’re seeing the Senate campaign attack ads between Saxby Chambliss and Jim Martin every five minutes. Those struck me as bizarre just for their black-is-white, up-is-down quality (the Democratic candidate is accusing the Republican candidate of being unpatriotic for not supporting the troops, and socialist for voting in favor of the Wall Street bailout). But they also struck me as bizarre because it’s the first time in a long time I’ve heard people speaking with southern accents on television, and they weren’t doing an impression, and they weren’t talking about country home cookin’ (Paula Deen’s been dead to me ever since I saw her put mayonnaise on a BBQ sandwich), and they weren’t the President, and they weren’t one of the Duke boys. But a well-educated, well-off person speaking with a southern accent that wasn’t faked.

I hate to sound too much like the SNL version of Zell Miller, but I think I’d cross party lines to vote for a man named Saxby Chambliss. (One of his ads has him asking God to bless Bush and Obama, and ends with his grandkids saying “Vote for my Big Daddy!”) I think we’ve done the Liberal White Southern Male Guilt thing long enough. It’s time for people like me to feel guilty for fleeing the south, forcing ourselves to say “can’t” instead of “cain’t,” and trying so hard to blend in that we let plain vanilla “American-ness” wash out everything distinctive about our upbringing.

Edit: I suppose I should clarify, this being the internet and all, since that sounded like I was actually endorsing the candidate with the cooler name. First, I haven’t been a resident of Georgia in over a decade, so I don’t keep up to date with the politics there. Second, voting for (or against) somebody based on his name is about as stupid as it gets. Third, based solely on the smear ads, I can’t even tell the two candidates apart. All I’m saying is that I feel dumb now for spending so many years trying to get rid of my accent.

0 thoughts on “I Tell You What”

  1. Chuck,

    I was in Douglasville, GA, for the Thanksgiving holidays and saw several of the Chambliss/Martin ads on TV. All pertinent issues aside, in my mind, there’s no good reason why someone named “Jim” should beat someone named “Saxby”. Which is probably why it’s a good thing I’m not registered to vote in GA. I caught that Chambliss family holiday ad and was like “did they say God Bless Bush and Obama?!?” The funny thing was I had just brought up the topic of the old NYC Channel 9 station holiday ads (aka “From our family to your family, wishing you Merry Christmas…from everyone at Channel 9”) when that one came on. Do you remember those? Hope you had a good holiday.

  2. Chuck,

    Saxby lost a lot of people 6 years ago when he ran ads accusing Max Cleland of being a coward and a traitor. You know, Max Cleland, the guy who lost both legs and one arm in Vietnam and then came back to serve his country as a secretary of veteran’s affairs and congressman. Oh, yeah, and Vietnam was that war Saxby dodged by saying he has a bad knee. Walks pretty good if you ask me. Better than Max for sure, at least now.


    But, “the Sack” won anyway, with the same kind of tactics as back then. Sure is a sack o’ somethin’, I tell you what.

  3. From Reader’s Digest this month:
    You know you’re in Georgia when you hear directions that begin: “You go down Peachtree” and end with “turn left when you see the Waffle House.”

    I was in Florida for election season. They sure do politics different in the South than here in California. I’ve never seen attack ads like that before.

  4. “California’s status as a relatively young state is significant in that it has not had centuries for regional patterns to emerge and grow (compared to, say, some East Coast or Southern dialects). Linguists who studied English as spoken in California before and in the period immediately after World War II tended to find few if any distinct patterns unique to the region. However, several decades later, with a more settled population and continued immigration from all over the globe, a noteworthy set of emerging characteristics of California English had begun to attract notice by linguists of the late 20th century and on.”


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