Thursday, March 18, 2010

#8 - Some hopefully helpful hints for successfully clarified Southern conversation

Tonight our fabulous local NPR station WFAE 90.7 FM held a "public conversation" on the topic "When North Meets South", to assist in bridging perceived and real cultural gaps between our "Northern Brethren", and us Charlotteans/Southerners.  It was a wonderfully humorous and reasonably thought-provoking discussion, providing the opportunity to chat a bit and chuckle a lot.  During the audience participation portion of the program, I raised my hand and offered the following tidbits of wisdom that I have gained since having become a Southerner some 37 years ago, following my birth and first 14 years of life in Iowa, the state I refer to as both "the land of beige food" (but that's another story for another time), and "the pink fluffy stuff in the attic", more pertinent to this missive; that is, one of the insulation layers between the North and South.

There are four expressions that I have found to be particularly useful to understand, for they often carry with them multi-layered intent and meaning that is belied by their ostensible simplicity.  As I begin to share them with you, I feel it important also to stress the significance of Subtlety, Gentility, Forgiveness, Empathy and, yes, Intellect that these expressions may reflect and convey.  I offer a single expression for the male persuasion, two for the female persuasion (given the greater number of words used by the female persuasion, subsequently resulting in a substantially larger proportion of entries in the vast world of Southern expressions), and a final one for the collective persuasion - a "universal Southernism", as it were.

So, with that contextual commentary completed, here are the four expressions that I shared this evening, and would like to share with you, in the true spirit of confederacy, and clarity:
  1. "He's a good ol' boy...", as in, "Well, he did serve a little time after relieving Miss Marlene of that wide-screen television of hers, but, he's a good ol' boy..."  (Forgiveness and Empathy)
  2. "Darlin', I just love that dress on you.  I never get tired of seein' it..." (Subtlety, Gentility and Intellect; perhaps a compliment, but most probably not...)
  3. "Well, isn't that interesting..."   A particularly effective exit from a unpleasant topic of conversation, this expression is typically delivered in a very pleasant tone and with a polite smile, followed rapidly yet gracefully by a turn of the head and the body in the opposite direction, and subsequent initiation of a different conversation with someone... else.  (Subtlety, Gentility and, perhaps, Intellect)
  4. "Bless (his, her, their, your) heart..."  One of the greatest examples of universal Southern empathy, this versatile expression can be used to neutralize a negative, or accentuate a positive.  An example of the former: "Lord, that boy's dumb as a stump, bless his heart..."; an example of the latter:  "My, isn't that a lovely drawing you've done for me.  Why, I do believe it is a tree, isn't it?  Bless your heart."  Each in its own way, I believe, reflects the speaker's great empathy for the human condition.  Just remember the following truism and you'll do just fine in using it:  "In the South you can say anything about anyone, as long as you say bless (their) heart afterward."  (Gentility, Empathy and, perhaps, if the subject is very fortunate indeed, Forgiveness)
I hope and trust that these four expressions will be of use to our Northern Brethren as they become dyed-in-the-wool Southerners.  Now let's all join hands and say "Bless their hearts..."

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