I’m an Air Force brat. My father served 26 years in the Army Air Corps and the Air Force. We did some traveling; mostly south to north and back again. Dad was assigned to a three-year stint in St. John’s, Newfoundland, an island province of Canada, but that’s a separate story. You see the military views things a little differently than civilians. Someone might ask about your hometown, but the service views you as Air Force regardless of age, sex, or state of origin. Imagine how difficult is for Southern-Air Force to be stationed in Northern Air Force.
As Southern Air Force (Texas-born, Louisiana cultured), I was raised to say ‘Ya’ll come’, ‘Thank you kindly, sir.’ ‘ Mom’s cooking up a mess of turnip greens and ham,’ ‘the skillet’s hot and ready to fry up some chicken’, or ‘I sure do love corn bread and sweet milk’. Unfortunately, the good citizens of Bangor, Maine, considered my terminology quite colorful. Of course, I had the same issues with Maine-speak, especially if the speaker was from down-east Maine. My teacher told me I needed red shots for gym. Cas were paked in the paking lot. Shooting stas could be seen in winter. We went to Ba Haba on Saturday. Quick translation: Red shots are red shorts. Cars were parked in the parking lot. Shooting stars can be seen in winter. And we went to Bar Harbor on Saturday. No wonder I nearly failed spelling! It seems strange that a country whose primary language is English is full of dialects and colloquialisms. Then again, the regional differences in our language are a gold mine for writers.
Can you imagine Scarlet O’Hara without her sweet southern belle smile and “Oh, Rhett, I do love you.” Or “I want everyone to be pea green with envy.” I also enjoyed the Closer’s Brenda Lee Johnson’s syrup-sweet “I’m doing just fine, thank you, but you on the other hand are under arrest.” What about President Kennedy’s cultured Boston accent? Californians have their special vocabulary. Sarah Palin speaks with a wonderful homey twang. Sprinkling these regional dialects and phrases in our stories adds color and enhances the setting. It brings realism to the work. Just don’t over-do it. There is a balance that should be maintained.
I say all this as I work on my contemporary cowboy story. In Texas, a filly could be a young female horse or a young lady. Is wushin’ my dirty clothes appropriate? I know we must greeze the axle on the hay-hauler. But if I order a soda, will I get a Dr. Pepper or a Big Red? Will the sky fall if I plan a bar-b-q on Friday night during high school football season? Such an action is sacrilegious and a hanging offense if a town’s team is in the state play-offs. Is referring to the protagonist’s girlfriend as ‘ugly as a mud fence’ too much an insult? When in doubt, I’ll consult Lou Hudson’s SPEAK TEXAN IN 30 MINUTES OR LES. I just have to be sure my good friends up North know that Texans no longer tie their horses to the hitchin’ post in front of the livery stable. We now drive trucks and park them in the parking lot.