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The “South” is the home of the “sweet mouth.” People there speak so charmingly!


The Southern part of the United States blooms with many strange accents — and they all converge in Dallas.

One girl in Dallas told me that she “sang behind the pasture.” I wondered why she sang to the cows, until I realized she meant she sang behind the pastor, in church.

When I attended a math class in a Dallas junior-high school, one of the girls talked about “ot,” and all her classmates understood her — except me. Later, I found out what “ot” was: the number that came after “seven.”

If 20 people gather in a room, how can you spot the Texans? A friend told me to spot them by asking everybody in the room to say “Osborne.” The only people he ever met who say pronounce it “Osburn” instead of “Ozborn” are from Texas.

My Alabamian roommate, James, says you can tell a true Southerner from a fake by noticing how the person uses the expression “y’all.” A true Southerner says “y’all” only when talking to a group, not to an individual. If you watch a TV movie that’s supposed to take place in the South but one of the actors says “y’all” to another actor, you know that the actors and scriptwriter are all damn Yankees.

A naughty TV show, “Candid Camera,” photographed Southerners trying to explain the difference between how they said “all” and “oil.” The Southerners thought they were pronouncing the words differently from each other, but Yankee ears couldn’t hear any difference and thought the Southerners were just making fools of themselves.

Here’s how to translate to Texan:

English                                            Texan

Can I help you?                                Kin ah hep you?

Would you like some chicken?          Kin ah hep you to some chicken?

Can I drive you home?                      Kin ah carry you home?

Come again!                                  Y’all come back now, heah?

I live in rural Texas                           Ah live in rule Texiz.

I’m in the oil business.                      Ah’m in the awl bidness.

I need some cash.                              Ah need some cash money.

I want to chat with you on the phone.     Ah need ta visit with you on the phone.

That makes no difference                 That makes no nevermind, anyhow anyway.

Maybe I could do that.                      Ah might could do that.

I swear.                                             Ah swan.

I swear I’ll do it.                               Ah’ll do it, ah swan!

Amazing! He killed it!                      Ah swan, he killed it!

We had a drought.                             We had a drouth.

The milk’s gone bad.                         The milk’s gone blinky.

I knocked over a bucket of fresh milk. Ah tumped over sweet milk.

I threw rocks at the squirrels.            Ah chunked rocks at the squirrels.

Let’s fight over the wishbone.       Let’s fight over the pulley-bone.

He’s my father.                                 He’s mah fatha.

She told him her complaints.            She told him right off how it was.

She divorced him.                             She gave him the gate.

They got divorced.                           They split the sheets.

You can find more Texan translations in How to Talk “Texian” (Robert Reinhold’s article in The New York Times on July 22, 1984, section 6, pages 8-10).


When Toyota built a car factory in Kentucky, Toyota’s Japanese employees took a course in how to speak Kentuckian, which is similar to Texan. They were taught that in Kentuckian, “can” is pronounced kin:

Ordinary English:                    Yes, I can do it.

Kentuckian pronunciation:     Yes, ah kin do it.

More confusingly, in Kentuckian the word “can’t” is pronounced can (since the a is held a long time, in a drawl, and the t is pronounced too quickly and too softly to hear):

Ordinary English:                    No, I can’t do it.

Kentuckian pronunciation:     No, ah can do it.

So if a Kentuckian says can, the Kentuckian means “can’t.”

The Japanese learned this important lesson: when a Kentuckian says he “can” do a job, the Kentuckian isn’t lying, just drawling.