‘Where’s your Bayer?’
I vividly remember that question from my high school job working in a convenience market in my Tennessee hometown.
A buxom young lady from out-of-town posed the query and I helpfully directed her to the section of the store showcasing our aspirin, bandages, Merthiolate, etc.
She sauntered to the shelves I suggested. Alas, she searched in vain. I clarified the directions. The ‘last year’s Easter Egg’ aura increased.
I finally asked, ‘WHAT was it you said you were looking for?’
‘Your Bayer. You know, like Pabst and Miller.’
This incident comes to mind because ‘The Daily Mail’ reports that researchers at the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech say the distinctive southern drawl is on its way out. Members of Generation X have less of an accent than their Baby Boomer parents, and the folksy diphthongs become less apparent with each succeeding generation.
Two main factors drive the transition: (a) the Yankee and West Coast dominance of mass media and (b) the mass migration into the South that followed World War II. Formerly isolated southern schoolchildren supposedly tried to assimilate with their newly transplanted classmates.
(At least in my experience, the assimilation may have been a ploy to lull the newcomers into a false sense of security, as in ‘Let me hold your head in the toilet and you tell me if it reminds you of clam chowdah’ or ‘Forget the cafeteria; if youse guys give me five bucks, I’ll bring you a gourmet possum casserole tomorrow.’)
I’ll admit some time-honored aspects of southern speech never made sense. Granted, one linguist did try to rationalize and dignify their etymology. (‘The settlers brought certain dialects from Europe. Then they encountered traders from other European countries. Then the Cherokee taught them unfamiliar vowels and encouraged them to flap their arms and cluck like a …d’oh!!’)
I have never been one to wave my college speech-and-theater minor in anyone’s face (especially since I’m still trying to live down Tony Young laughing at me for announcing the junior high yearbook cover was going to be ‘blue and yeller’), but I can see the positive side of the change tracked by the researchers.
It’s irksome to hear people pronouncing ‘hill’ like where Achilles got wounded or ‘yell’ like an Ivy League university in New Haven, Connecticut.
One of my favorite neighboring towns is Shelbyville, which has a crisp, three-syllable name. A name which many people in surrounding counties degrade to ‘Shevel’ or ‘Shovel’ or (if they’re feeling particularly pretentious) ‘Shebbuvuhl.’
I’m not the first member of the family with reservations about go-with-the-flow language. My father said Granny Tyree wanted to name his little sister ‘Caroline,’ but she shifted gears because she knew her backwoods neighbors would pronounce it ‘Cowline.’
Still, ‘Gone With the Wind’ remains my favorite movie and a tenacious part of me has lactose intolerance when it comes to homogenization of the language.
I don’t want to live in a world where Foghorn Leghorn or Tennessee Williams’s Big Daddy become indecipherable without a Rosetta Stone.
I have handwritten a heartfelt letter asking today’s youngsters to cling to select features of our cultural heritage.
Unfortunately, the plan is going all cattywampus because I plumb forgot and wrote it in cursive!
Did that wisecrack give you a headache? I do declare, I’m just getting warmed up.
Here, hold my Bayer…
Danny Tyree welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page ‘Tyree’s Tyrades.’