Thursday, April 11, 2024

Colorful Language

Oh, dear me. I have company coming. I have been cleaning like a madwoman and have fallen so far behind on everything writerly. I missed my last scheduled Type M entry - mainly because I got a Covid booster the day before and as usual wasn't worth shooting the day after. I hope I'm not screwing up the schedule here by posting today, but I felt an irresistible urge to comment on Tom's wonderful entry on Curses, below... because I love curses.

 I love language altogether. I’ve always been fascinated by words and the mind-pictures they paint. I’m sure I come by it honestly. I've written stories since I could hold a pencil in my fist. Perhaps it's because my parents read to me from the cradle, or because I come from such a long line of tale-tellers. One of my grandmothers used to keep us fascinated for hours on end with her stories of life in the Kentucky mountains. Toward the end of my grandmother's life, one of my sisters asked her how much of what she had told us was true and she replied, "Well...some of it." So the truth is I didn't decide to become a writer. I'll quote the Achilles character in the movie "Troy"..."I didn't choose this life. I was born and this is what I am.”

My grandparents—and parents— had the most wonderful way of putting things. One grandma was born and raised in Kentucky and the others in Arkansas at the turn of the Twentieth Century. Their language  and vocabulary was absolutely Elizabethan. When Grandma went to garden over yonder, she put on her gauntlets and hunkered down to tend her “yarbs”.

Now, I of course, was desperate to get rid of my Oklahoma accent when I was young. Especially when I was traveling. My accent is not as strong as my parents’, nor was theirs as strong as their parents. My nieces and nephews sound more "standard" yet. But after years living away from my native place, I saw on a news program an interview with two young women from Tulsa. They sounded like Valley girls. I was shocked. What happened to that beautiful twang? That poetic way with words? ( That delightful Scotch-Irish combination of humor and fatalism? Oklahoma is what linguists call a “Transitional state”. My native Oklahoman husband, who comes from a different part of the state than I, has an accent that is different from mine. One thing I specifically wanted to do with the Alafair Tucker series was preserve something of a way of speaking that seems to be rapidly disappearing.

I've been known to use less than pristine epithets myself and find them extremely useful in times of stress.  In fact, a dear friend of mine who I have known since my salad days at the University of Oklahoma was at the time an extraordinarily innocent boy who on frequent occasions would curl your ears with the most astoundingly filthy curses known to man.  Because of his sweet face and gentle nature, the effect of this language was much less shocking than it was hilarious, and ever since, for good or ill,  I've had quite an affection for dirty words.

I grew up among people whose goal was to curse in the most imaginative language possible, which can really increase your vocabulary if you apply yourself.  My mother was particularly good at coming up with ways to express disapproval using only G-rated words.  One of her scariest curses was "I heap coals of fire upon him."  The words themselves weren't as frightening as her throaty growl and the curl of her lip over her eyetooth.  My father had been a Marine, and knew words that I don't understand to this day, but he had a house full of little daughters and controlled his language heroically.  He often had the pee-waddin' scared out of him and wondered what in the cat-hair was going on. 

So curse on, Tom. It's good for the soul.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome post, Donis. This makes me think of my wife, who worked really hard to lose her Southern accent when she went off to college. Once in a while, I'll hear it slip back in and it's delightful.


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