More Southernisms and Texas talk
0 comment Friday, May 2, 2014 |
A while back, when I blogged about various Southron dialect expressions, I mentioned the old-fashioned exclamation ''Well, I swan!" or ''I swanee!" I said that I took it to be simply a pious way of avoiding the phrase ''I swear", because Christians are warned in the Bible against swearing oaths.
I often heard the phrase as ''Well, I swan to goodness!" which further reinforced the idea that ''swan'' was a euphemism for ''swear'' in that context.
However when I was perusing, I found this thread about ''Texas Lingo" where a couple of alternative explanations are given for the expression ''I swan":
''Well, I'll swan" a slurred version of the Old English expression of "I'll swoon" (i.e., I'm so shocked I shall swoon - faint - pass out). My grandmother's family were Brits and that was a very common saying in the family.''
It was a very common saying in my family, too, but I think it was current among the older generations, my parents' and grandparents' generations; it wasn't necessarily restricted by ancestral background, though most of the people of old Texas stock were of English and Scots-Irish descent.
Later on in the thread, a poster called TexasReb adds this about the phrase:
Here is something I found concerning that expression:
swan 2 (swŏn) Pronunciation Key
intr.v. Chiefly Southern U.S.
To declare; swear. Used in the phrase I swan as an interjection. See Regional Note at vum.
The American Heritage� Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright � 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Cite This Source
verb (used without object) Midland and Southern U.S. Older Use. to swear or declare (used with I): Well, I swan, I never expected to see you here!
1775�85, Americanism; prob. continuing dial. (N England) I s'wan, shortening of I shall warrant
My guess is that its use among older folks in the Southern and rural Midwest traces to a Bible Belt connection. That is, to "swear" had blasphemous connotations, so thus the euphemism "I swan" developed...?''
I believe I also speculated about a more widespread usage of the phrase because I came across sheet music (which I collect) for an old song
called 'Wal, I Swan', from 1907. The song depicts New England rural folk, so it seems the expression was one of those countrified turns of speech that was probably heard a hundred or more years ago in various parts of the country.
Language naturally changes as the world around us changes, but the changes to our ways of speaking (and writing) seem to be accelerating in our time. The younger generations tend to lose their regional accents and idioms, and the appearance of media-driven youth slang seems to spread quickly to the older generations, more so than in previous eras, I think. As in all things, the youth-worshipping older generations are emulating their children instead of the other way around.
I've been collecting these old expressions and linguistic oddities just for sentiment's sake, so I may as well share some with you here. Remember, they are as I heard them from the older generation; some of you from other places or who grew up in later eras may not have heard these as I heard them. And they are not necessarily presented in any kind of strict order or categories:
Pronunciations that differ from standard American English:
'Often' - the t is pronounced, not silent as in standard American English
Salmon - the 'l' is sounded, not silent
Some pronunciations were common among my parents' generation and earlier, but are now pretty much obsolete among the younger folks, for
example, pronouncing words like 'chance', 'dance', 'glass', 'gas' and so on with a long 'a', somewhat like the 'a' sound in the word 'range.' I think it started to decline in my age group and virtually no one pronounces the aforementioned words that way.
Incidentally, why is the ''a'' in the word chance or dance not given the 'long a' pronunciation? Usually such a word with the silent-e ending has a long vowel preceding it -- as in ''range'' or ''strange'. I suspect (though I can't prove) that the older pronunciation may have been like that of the older generations in the South.
The word 'rinse' was pronounced very similar to 'wrench.'
The word 'greasy' rhymed with 'easy', with the 's' pronounced with a voiced 'z' sound
I believe the 'z' sound in 'greasy' is the standard UK pronunciation as well; I'm open to correction if I'm wrong.
An obsolete expression: 'sody water' for coke or any soft drink. Nowadays, it's more likely to be called just 'coke'.
'Stove up" - stiffened up as with arthritis, having stiff joints
In taking leave of somebody, the older folks would always say ''Y'all come back', whereas the person or people departing might say ''Y'all might as well come go with us."
I've mentioned before the use of the word ''supper'' for the evening meal, instead of "dinner." Dinner is, of course, the midday meal.
Icebox -the more common term for refrigerator.
"In high cotton" - prospering, living well
"Well, who licked the red off of your candy?" - meaning who put you in a foul mood
"Good enough to make you slap your grandma!" Paula Deen of the Food Network used this expression on her cooking show recently.
"A sight on this earth" - meaning a sight to see
"All vines and no taters"--a false front, like the expression "all hat and no cattle"
"One day it's chickens, the next day it's feathers", and "The sun don't shine on the same dog's tail every day" - meaning that fortunes change
"favor "-- to resemble, "he favors his daddy", or as I was told I ''favor" my grandmother
''Above your raisin' "-- putting on airs; getting above oneself (usually used when someone's acting prissy or snobby).
Another variant is ''Gone back on your raisin' " meaning denying your roots or your upbringing.
"Workin' like a borrowed mule'' means working very hard, or this variant: ''he worked him like a rented mule", implying that the person was being ill-treated by a taskmaster of a boss.
This phrase was one I often heard: "He looked like he was sent for and couldn't go" or ''called for and couldn't come." The idea is that the person in question was ailing or not up to par.
Saying that someone ''looked like he was rode hard and put up wet'' implies he was exhausted and overworked. Obviously the metaphor describes a horse who has been ridden hard and not taken care of properly when put away.
Misbehaving children often heard this warning: "Don't act ugly. God don't like ugly." Or ''Set down and be quite" (meaning quiet) or ''Quieten down!" as my father would scold us when we were getting too rambunctious.
Incidentally the word ''ugly'' often connoted misbehavior or bad character, not a lack of physical beauty, although the following expressions do describe physical unattractiveness: "Uglier than homemade sin." (or "homemade soap"); 'Uglier than six miles of homemade mud fence", "Ugly enough to fright a haint [ghost; haunt] off a thorn bush" "Ugly enough to haunt a nine-room house". Or this often-heard one: "fell out of the ugly tree".
On the other side, we hear ''pretty as red shoes" or ''pretty as a speckled pup in a little red wagon."
On the subject of weather, the older generations would say ''it's comin' up a storm" or ''a rain", rather than just saying ''it's going to rain."
Recently, when we had sunshine and rain at the same time, I said to a friend ''the devil's beating his wife", which she found amusing; she says she'd never heard that expression before.
There are plenty more where these came from, but I'll stop here, and ask if any of you have recollections of old-time expressions or regionalisms. To me, the English language with its many variations is always fascinating, and these various expressions add color to life. They are worth preserving and passing on.

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