The Charlotte News

Friday, January 27, 1939


Site Ed. Note: We include the following two pieces from the page of this date. The first provides contrast to the Cash piece on "The Way We Talk"; it suggests an older mode of representing black speech, printed dialect which implies a color line in speech which was in fact less pronounced than many whites liked to believe, their own speech, when literally printed, looking and reading equally "quaint". Moreover, such quaintness reduced to print which generated "scollard", "kin", and "git" betrayed nothing less than overt racism. What, pray tell, is the difference in pronunciation for most people even today between "git" and "get" in any version of English, at least when not consciously thinking about it? Those who literally say "get", we bet, would likely fit on the head of a pin, or would perhaps moonlight as Shakespearean actors.

And is it not reasonably correct, in seventeenth century colloquial English anyway, to say, "I am not a schollard"? (Cf. O.E.D.: "1678 Quack's Acad. in Harl. Misc. (1809) II. 33 'The admiring patient shall certainly cry you up for a great schollard, provided always your nonsense be fluent.'" So why does Mr. Bryant convert it to scollard? Perhaps, if he did indeed quote accurately, his subject mentally spelled the word correctly while only Mr. Bryant failed in his scholiasting. The inclusion of the "ain't" adds little to distinguish it from any rural speech, now or then, Southern or else.

Moreover, we wonder whether "gwine" was simply another way of saying "gone", not necessarily "goin'" at all, only becoming "gwine" in the first place, sounding as a bastardization derivative of French attempt at English pronunciation, obviously because the slavers and slaveowners and overseers used such poor pronunciation themselves, "goin'", "gona", "gonna", etc.--garbled pronunciation which still persists in the Southern white community, high and low.

And, we know that the molasses story is not true, but a standing cardboard tale passed about which we have heard a thousand times growing up in the South, though imparted in our experience without racial overtones.

Finally, as to the Indian story, well, if you get that one, then you qualify definitely as a card-carrying racist linguist, for we cannot even understand what it means or why it's supposed to be humorous, let alone attempt to begin to analyze it. Is "Hee" Cherokee?

So, regardless, we gwine t' include this heya piece so you can gonna read it and git ye hackles alls up or alls down, as ye please.

We prefer Cash's idea on Southernese, that despite the elisions in spoken speech, all the consonants are sung. So, at least in song, all become equals. Indeed, it is true, proving that Southern dialect is, as we have always thought it, mostly acquired, not wired, heard, often consciously emulated, and even deliberately exaggerated and affected, as much as it is passed generationally.

But that's okay, 'cause if they wasn't no diff'rence in the ways we speaks, we'd all be borin' and sterile, just like most of them 's on the tv.

For more on Cash's take on Southern speech patterns, see "Ca'lina, Indeed!", February 4, 1940.

Old-Time Negroes Knew Their Fine Points In Words

By H. E. C. Bryant in Chapel Hill Weekly

The old-time Negroes had a language all their own, founded on that of their owners. They took short cuts, snubbing the endings of words, or twisting them to suit their taste.

I had often heard the same Negro use "goin'" for going, and in the next breath make it "gwine." I could see there was a distinction in the mind of the user, and I wanted to know what it was. At Reidsville one day, on the way from the old hotel to the station, I asked the porter, who carried my baggage to tell me why a few minutes before he had said "goin'" and then "gwine."

"Well, boss, I ain't no scollard, but I kin splain it dis way," he responded. "You see Cap'n Albright on dat platform of de train? Now, sir, when it's time to go he'll retch up an' git dat bell cord, an' say: 'All erboard, de train's goin'. Now, dat's goin'. When de train gits down about Benaja, lickity-splittin', den she's 'gwine'."

To the Negro of the old school goin' was prosaic, and "gwine" indicated something finer with a swing to it.


The late Isaac Erwin Avery picked up a delightful bit of Negro talk at a police station. Two small boys, brothers, belonged to different classes. Bud was a shoe-shine who got his education on the streets of Charlotte and John, the younger of the two, had come along when the father was more prosperous and could give him school training.

At the table the boys often indulged in heated discussions. At school John had added to the manners taught at home. He had learned something about words, too, and dared to correct Bud.

One day Bud said to John, across the table: "Son, give me the 'lasses?"

"Oh, Bud, don't say 'lasses; ask for the 'molasses'."

"G'way, boy, wid yo' fool school talk," retorted Bud, "how's I goin' to ask fur 'mo' lasses when I ain't had no 'lasses yet?"


The Rev. Dr. John W. Stagg, one time preacher for the Second Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, related an incident at a railroad station. A tourist from New England was talking with a Southern friend, just rambling through a wayside conversation. The Yankee asked the Southerner if he had ever heard that the Negroes of America were related to the Indians.

"Oh, yes," came the insincere reply, "there is no doubt about it in my mind. All Negroes are part Indian. Their talk clearly indicates that."

"What do you mean by their talk? How does that show blood lines?"

"Well, there are three or four Negroes on the platform down there, none of whom I ever saw before. Let us go to them, and you pick one of them for the test and I will do the talking and you'll see that their language is that of the red man."

An old gray bearded, gray-headed Negro was singled out and the Southerner stepped up to him and without preliminaries shouted: "Whar Hee!" And the Negro came back: "Whar Who?"

Debunking Eden

Richmond News-Leader

Adam and Eve are at it again.

This time the argument is over the fruit plucked by Eve from the tree of knowledge. Youth for centuries has been taught that the cause of ancestral sin was the apple, though the Biblical passage which describes the incident gives no name to the "forbidden fruit." Now the London Observer declares that the fruit was thus designated for the first time by John Milton in Book IX of Paradise Lost.

Since the apple is not a native fruit of that section of the world where the Garden of Eden is supposed to have been, it is concluded that the great Milton was influenced in his decision to identify the mysterious fruit by the classic Greek myth of the "apple of discord."

It would be too bad if philologists should demonstrate that the "forbidden fruit" was really a pear. Apples and wisdom and health have been associated in our minds too long to make any change acceptable to the human race.

Hint: The fruit is a metaphor, "the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil"--such as that which we witness daily out of Iraq.

Come Down to Louisiana

Attorney General Frank Murphy is going to make a trip over the country "to speed the administration of justice" and to see if he can't finally dispose of "some old and scandalous cases and others that should be brought to trial immediately." He will go to Boston and Chicago and elsewhere, but he says nothing at all about going to Louisiana.

An "old and scandalous" case undoubtedly is that of the Second Louisiana Purchase. In 1934 and 1935, Federal grand juries had returned indictments against eleven henchmen of the late Huey Long. The charge was income tax evasion: Seymour Weiss, treasurer of the Long organization, for under-reporting his income by $176,072: others of the machine by smaller amounts. One man was actually tried and sent to prison. Another was acquitted. But between the last of the indictments in December, 1935, and the national Democratic convention in June, 1936, the rest of the cases were nol-prossed. [Louisiana--20 votes for Roosevelt, and peaceable co-operation between the New Deal and the relief of the Long machine.]

Cool Defense of Fraud

J. O. Bell, Tuxedo Falls, N.C., member of the State Board of Elections, in coming out frankly for retention of the absentee ballot has said all there is to be said against it. Cooly conceding that the recommendations of the board were "fine, superb and cannot be improved upon," he went on, speaking directly into our file as the classic example of a man of personal integrity condoning public corruption:

"If I were a member of the minority party, I would vote for it quick. But in the West we need some leeway. Unless we have some margin, there will be a flock of Republicans down here."

Do you get the full significance of that? That the honesty of elections is beside the point? That winning 'em by fair means or foul is what counts, so long as your own party comes out on top? That the Republicans may have a majority of the bona fide votes, and welcome to 'em, as long as the Democrats control the election machinery? And that the proprietor of these opinions is a member of the board which is supposed to oversee elections?

If anything else were needed to identify this defense of the absentee ballot as an unabashed defense of electoral fraud, the last election in the board member's home county of Henderson would supply it. Henderson, though not a populous county, cast the largest absentee vote in the entire state. One out of every four votes was absentee. The number of absentee votes was 2,176. The Democrats won by 761.

Really, This Time?

Yesterday at Rome, Lord Mussolini, with Barcelona in his hands, stripped away the last vestige of pretense. With reference to the Spanish battle cry, "No Pasaran!" he thundered, "But we have passed and I say to you that we will pass!" The crowd roared with one voice, "Tunisia!"

Yesterday, too, while the whole Parliament from Communist to old Croix de Feu men and Royalists, stood and wildly cheered him, Daladier of France told his countrymen that France had no notion of making any concessions of any kind whatever, and that England and France would take "the necessary steps," naval action and the occupation of Spanish Morocco were intimated, if Mussolini did not get out of Spain or resorted to threats of force against France.

All of which might reasonably have been taken to mean that England and France evidently concluded that "appeasement" is foolish and are preparing at last to take a firm stand. Yet it has to be remembered, too, that precisely such firm speeches and threatening movement of the battle fleets were the heralds of Munich. And so no one can be sure that this is not the herald of another such settlement.

But if they do at last, France and England, mean business, then their behavior in the past has got them into a dreadful spot, and all Europe and the world with them. For Mussolini and Hitler are both likely to assume from gloating experience that this firmness is only bluff, and that it can be beaten down with a little sternness and forthright action. That is to say, England and France may have no way now of impressing their firmness upon their opponents save by actually fighting.

A Really Blue Law

The rarest proposal for a Blue Sunday yet hatched in the Legislature comes, not from the western part of the state, which is commonly supposed to be most addicted to such pious enterprises, but from the East, where tolerance and good cheer is generally held to reign. Representative Boswood of Currituck was to pass a law for his county making it a crime for people to dance in their own houses from Saturday midnight to Sunday midnight.

That's a far cry from the doctrine of the common law that "An Englishman's home is his castle." And about the only parallel for it is to be found in the famous code of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Indeed, if it ever got accepted as good, constitutional law, there would be nothing to prevent North Carolina going in whole hog for that Massachusetts Bay code, and making it a crime not to go to church on Sunday, to nod in church, to allow a child to laugh, not to spend the whole day reading the Bible and praying, and so on.

It's a Wise Worker...

Something has come out of Atlanta about a textile union, the Southern Cotton Textile Federation, whose membership is to be restricted to employees of Southern mills. It is to be an AFL affiliate, competitor with TWOC for Southern organization, but whether it is to be a subsidiary of United Textile Workers, Francis Gorman's itinerant outfit which is seeking re-admittance into AFL, we simply cannot make out from the dispatch.

And no wonder. It's a wise textile worker who knows his allegiance these turgid days. Indeed, without having moved from the spot of the union of his choice, he might have found himself one day in CIO territory, the next in a limbo between the two, the next all the way back in AFL and thereafter in the Southern division of the Northern branch of the same.

A strictly Southern union would have its talking points undoubtedly. For one thing, it would allay any suspicion of New England connivance for the ulterior purpose of cramping Southern competition. But, of course, a strictly Southern union under the dominance of such men as Gorman, whose whole strength and experience has been gained in the East, would be a change of name only and not of control.

The Way We Talk

We naturally hate to disagree with a President-General of the UDC, but it looks as if we have to. Mrs. Walker Lamar has been certifying her satisfaction with the fact that a lady born in Darjeeling, India, and educated in Paris, Dublin, and other points no closer to Dixie than three thousand miles, has been selected to play Scarlett O'Hara in the movie version of "Gone With the Wind." That's all right. After all, the lady will probably do no worse than most any Yankee would have done, and a lot better than some we discreetly decline to mention. But when Mrs. Lamar goes on to remark that she understands from English people that Southern speech is very much like that of Englanders themselves--ah, now, there we'll have to draw the line.

Virginia, maybe. Yes, there are people from certain sections of Virginia who do talk something that has some remote resemblance to the English as England knows it. But for the South at large--as our Mr. Shipp is always arguing, the South sings its speech in most places. That is, it delivers it with almost as many elisions as French has, and makes its meaning clear less by the actual projection of the words than by great attention to voice inflection. The song varies enormously within the South itself, for that. Nothing could be more unlike than the tinkling little "mo's" and "fo'teens" of South Carolina and the rich, rolling band effect of Alabama and Tennessee, which always seems to be spilling over. But in most cases, elision and voice inflection are the important things to be noticed.

And in nearly all cases it has little more kinship with West End Londonese than it has with Hottentot For the West End dialect, which passes in England for standard English, is a clipped and flat speech. Each word stands out sharp and distinct, and the voice is kept almost expressionless throughout.

We don't talk like Englishmen. We talk like nothing on earth but Southerners.


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