Friday, June 24, 2016

Say what?

I'm at the Western Writers of American convention in Cheyenne Wyoming and heard an interesting panel this morning on dealing with vernacular.

It started me thinking about dialog and what is politically correct and what is a hot potato. But another more important issue to mystery writers is related to regional usage. Since most of what I write is set in Kansas I'm usually on pretty firm ground. But not always.

My husband and I both grew up in Anderson County Kansas. We moved to Western Kansas when we were married. I was surprised at the difference in what people in opposite sides of the state called things.

In fact, I once took a class in linguistics in which the professor said there was a man so skilled at detecting variations in usage that he could tell within 50 miles where a person was born and where they moved to later in life.

Determining verbal accuracy in dialogue can be quite frustrating:
       Do you want a coke or a can of pop?
       Do you make bread or white bread or light bread?
       Is your pickup stuck in the ditch, the bar-ditch, or the barrow ditch?
       Do you reach for a tea towel or a domestic?
       Are you afraid of thunderstorms or lightning storms?
       Is that river the Arkansas (as in the state--Ar-kan-saw) or the Ar-KANSAS?
       Do the men go off somewhere or do the menfolks?

Occasionally usage can even be a factor in plotting. Certainly it has been a clue contained in ransom notes and threats.

I'm not a hard and fast advocate of "writing what you know" but when it comes to the choice of words native to a region it's a very good idea to plan a research trip to the area. Go with a notebook and pay attention when people "talk funny."


Mary Jane Hopper said...

I am from Kansas and since I moved to Arizona I've learned that not everyone uses the same phrases/sayings in different regions. Until I moved here I didn't know that certain phrases meant nothing to the locals.

Charlotte Hinger said...

Hi Mary Jane. Yes. And it still grates on me when someone says "truck" instead of pickup