Being a Grammar Nazi in South Georgia is a lot like being a Fire Marshall in Hell. It’s like being a noise monitor at a Rap Concert. It’s like being a Prohibitionist on Saint Patrick’s Day in Savannah Georgia. It’s like cleaning up the Gulf Gusher with a teaspoon with holes in it while drinking shots of tequila for every gallon they keep telling us isn’t out there. Being a Grammar Nazi in South Georgia is about as popular as advocating the Metric System, which by the way, I do that also.
One thing that the Politically Correct Police haven’t shut down yet is the comic strip, “Snuffy Smith” created June 17, 1919 by Billy DeBeck, but taken over by Fred Lasswell and then by John Rose. The strip reveals the life of family of hillbillies who speak in Southern English, which is a form of slang. I’m sure there is no other cultural group that could be made fun of in this manner and the artist make a living doing it. I suspect there are two main reasons there has never been an outcry over this. (1) People really do speak in this manner. (2) They do not realize they are the butt of a joke when they read the comic strip because they assume it’s just the way other people speak.
No, not everyone in South Georgia is an undereducated redneck with poor language skills. But those who are seem to be downright militant about it. Trying to have an intelligent conversation with some of the people I know about the proper use of language is a lot like trying to convert these people to cannibalism; they do realize some people do it but the very idea of partaking themselves…
The comic strip makes the typical Southerner look like a shiftless moron intent on spending his days fishing and this nights stealing chickens. There is a moonshine still in the background, and a broken down shack for a home. 99% of the Southern people I know are hardworking people with exemplary work ethics and nice homes. I cannot tell you most of them do not fish, but the stealing chickens part is something I can truthfully say does not happen. Yet because the comic strip characters speak the same language as far too many Southerners, the general perception is those people who speak the language live that kind of life. Furthermore, because the Southern states are always mired in the very bottom of educational scores in the nation, the myth is reborn, like a Phoenix with a drawl, each year.
I know people who can coax from the earth good food and who can rebuild anything that is broken, and who can tell you when to plant and where to plant and how much fertilizer the crops need, and who if they found a wallet full of money would return it without taking a dime, and they would not take a reward for this, and they would never stop to think this is unusual. These are people who are good parents, who never mistreat their spouses, or children or pets. Yet for all their goodness of character, once they begin to speak it sounds so much like the Snuffy Smith it is nearly impossible for anyone from the outside to see past this at all. So incredibly ignorant is the manner of speech the treasure of the thoughts is totally lost in the trash of the words.
The irony of the Georgia’s anti-immigration movement is the hue and cry for there to be some sort of requirement for English to be the only language spoken in the state. About half the people I know are going to be deported to Possum Holler or Hooterville if this law takes effect. And no matter how hard I try, or what method I try, the offences seem to orbit around a few words and phrases.
1. Ain’t: In and of itself, this is the national word of the ignorant. The fact the word is in the dictionary seems to legitimize its place in spoken conversation.
2. Double Ain’t Negatives: “Ain’t got no” “Ain’t doing nothing” “Ain’t worth nothing” “Ain’t going nowhere” Use a Double Ain’t Negative in a job interview and unless you’re applying for a job in a chicken house with a broom, the person interviewing you just lopped off 50 IQ points from their opinion of you and 15K off your starting salary.
3. Verb Confusion: “They was going to going to school with him but he were late.” “I done seen the truth and it weren’t pretty” and my favorite when I mention someone sounds like they were educated by fictional characters, “It don’t matter” and “It don’t matter none”
You may think things are not nearly as bad as I make them sound but what I have related here comes straight out of the mouths of people I speak with each day. You may not think this matters but when speaking to people outside the cultural norm in this region this manner of speech makes us all sound as if education is a foreign language. Considering the test scores coming out of Georgia schools, that is a theory that might just have more validity than we would like to admit. English is the language we use to educate our children so what does it mean when we do not speak that language when we are at home with them?
Here are some terms:
1. Stupid: This is an inability to learn. Nowhere in what I have said do you see this term used in reference to anyone in Georgia because of the way they speak.
2. Ignorant: Uneducated. I have used this term, and I think considering the test scores of our students it has been earned.
3. Willfully Ignorant: Knowing better but refusing to act upon knowledge in the name of some sort of homage to culture.
That last one is killing us folks. We ain’t going no where, and we ain’t doing nothing until we begin to realize the words coming out of our mouths cloud whatever it is we have to say.