Many of our neighbors in the Old West End join us from other places. Relocating to the South can be a bit of a culture shock. Perhaps the most obvious difference is in the way people in the South, and particularly Southside Virginia, speak. The word “y’all”, for instance, along with its many variants (“all y’all”, “y’alls”, “y’all two” or whatever the number may be) is a word spoken nowhere else. And though it grammatically makes no sense, it’s a completely valid form of expression here. There are plenty of other examples, of course, but it’s perhaps important first to note that one mustn’t make the mistake of assuming people who speak this way are less intelligent, educated, or informed. It’s often the case that Danville area natives are completely aware of proper grammar and usage but simply choose to speak according to their cultural norm when they are with others who share that culture. And even if they don’t, colloquialisms such as these are still regionally correct. I, as an educated Westerner, am not somehow better because I know how to use helping verbs (a personal lesson, I’m afraid.) As I’ve grown older and done more traveling, I’ve become fascinated by the way location, in this country or any other, affects cultural norms.
Sometimes these differences, however, can cause confusion which is why we at the Gazette though that this post might be, if not actually educational, at least of interest to those who have, like us, relocated here.
I remember one occasion, not long after my arrival in the South, I was asked to stop by the home of a new friend. She instructed me to arrive around dinner time. Several hours later I received an angry phone call asking where I was. As it turned out, “dinner” meant lunch time, and I had broken my appointment. On another occasion, when my mother came to visit, she was given a compliment about her “pocketbook?” She smiled and thanked the woman kindly, and only once we were safely back in the car did she looked at me to ask, “What’s a pocketbook?”
I was recently at a book event here in town and had the privilege of meeting Cindy Schmidt and Josh Waltman who have made a project out of this very question. The two are close friends and coworkers at library in a neighboring county. In the course of their work and their daily conversations, they have found that those who have had the misfortune to listen in on their conversations are often left perplexed by the combination of their accents and colloquial phrasings and word usages. This became so common a complaint (by colleagues, not patrons, with whom they adopt a more formal English) that they dedicated to write a book to clarifying a dialect that is not only distinctive to the South, but perhaps to Southside Virginia in particular.
Words like “pocketbook”, buggy”, “jackleg”, “nabs”, and “housecoat” get ample treatment in this book, as do phrases like “cut the light off” or “go all the way ‘round the barn”. The collection of Southside Southernisms also touches upon cultural uniquenesses such as etiquette, tobacco culture, culinary related terms, as well as a sizeable section dedicated to the many uses of the word “y’all”.
Danville, and the Old West End, is so diverse that a resource like this is perhaps not necessary, but it sure is fun. The book is available for $9.99 on Amazon and locally at Main Street Art Collective.
What are some of the linguistic misunderstandings you have encountered as transplants to the area?