I was raised on sweet tea and euphemisms. We called our kisses sugar and sprinkled the real stuff on everything we ate and said.
In the South, we love a euphemism because we don’t like to be direct. We’ll end up goin’ around by Laura’s house tryin’ to make a point because being direct never seems nice or polite.
The irony is that being direct is typically the most polite form of communication. Being direct and being rude are two different things, though. Confusing those is what gets us in a pickle.
Goin’ around by Laura’s house means taking a long way around to get somewhere. We use that expression about our travels and our conversations. Southerners love elaborate descriptions of every detail and so on and so forth. We want you to be fully immersed in every second of our experience and story. It’s like an extension of our hospitality to make you feel a part of something.
Growin’ up I never knew I was bilingual, speakin’ both English and Southern, until I got to college. I majored in broadcast journalism and you know what they have the audacity to do? Record you. Don’t that beat all? Do you know what a Southerner does the first time they hear their voice on a tape recording in front of other people?
“Oh my! Do I really sound like that?” Except it’s more LYk thi-us… “Ohhhhh MYYYY! Due I rrrrreally sound LIIIYKKK tha-UT?”
I listened to Diane Sawyer and thought she sounded divine. Then I listened to myself and I was completely embarrassed. I sounded like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton overdosed on cornbread and molasses.
Then came my assignment. Record myself over and over and over until I’d stripped the Southern right out of my sound. And I did, too.
I didn’t want to sound like that. No ma’am. I thought it made me sound dumb. Like I’d crawled out of a pea patch. I was intent on changing the way I sounded. They say “can’t never could,” so I spoke and recorded, rinsed and repeated, until I just about worked that drawl out of my crawl. Lord willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I was gonna sound like a normal person.
But let me tell y’all something for sure, you can’t run from your raisin’. I’d get to sounding normal and then I’d call home. Within seconds and without even hearing it, every word I spoke sounded like it was slathered in honey.
My babies were raised in the South, but they don’t sound quite as Southern as their Mama. When I get on the phone with somebody from home, they start giggling. They say I begin speaking in slow motion. But now that I’m older, I say I’m just speaking in love.
I’m not embarrassed anymore. I quite like the way my people sound, because they sound exactly the way they are: soft and kind, funny and endearing.
The world is in such a tizzy, flittin’ around everywhere and bein’ impatient, that it makes me value the slower way even more. We’d rather sit on a porch and visit, make you something good to eat, and hear how your Mama ’n em are than rush things… including the way we speak.
Part of that slow speech is to give ourselves time to choose the right words, so we sound more like porch fans hummin’ and less like weed eaters choppin’.
Maybe some of y’all wish we would just lay off the euphemisms, stop sugar-coatin’, and get to the point. But I’ve always heard it said you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.
It’s easy to have a vinegar-coated tongue these days. The Internet has helped us hide behind anonymity and let loose with the words we speak. But it isn’t limited to the Internet. There seem to be no holds barred in public anymore either.
The other day, a man started hollerin’ at me at the gas station. Just like that, I was hollerin’ back at him to stop hollerin’ at me. Before I knew it, I was madder than a wet hen. The bottom line? I was in his way.
“Lordamercy, you can’t wait justaminute?” I thought.
I sort of understand it, though. Our society feels like a pressure cooker. Life is expensive and the expectations of personal and professional performance are higher than ever. And a 24-7 news and information cycle will whip you into a lather if you let it.
We have to be intentional in our thoughts, our choices, and our speech. We have to turn that 24-hour news cycle off and choose carefully what we consume. Because, what goes in is usually what comes out.
The world isn’t gonna get nicer on its own. We all have to choose the way its gonna go and how many flies we’re gonna catch.
And whether we’re gonna use vinegar…or honey.
Usin’ the latter sure would make life a lot sweeter.