Originally created 09/13/98

Southern sayings getting scarce

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Southernisms are getting scarce as hen's teeth in some parts of the South, but you all ought to know that they ain't gone. Not by a long shot.

And just in case they fade from some memories, Roy Wilder Jr. is back with a reminder: a new printing of "You All Spoken Here."

As a collection of Southern words and phrases, it's as smart as a tree full of owls.

Wilder, 83, mixes Southernisms and history and adds a few explainers to help folks who aren't from here.

Take striking stick, one of those wooden kitchen matches you can strike with a fingernail. It's known as a barn burner in western Pennsylvania and a farmer match in northern Illinois, he writes.

It's not really necessary to learn everything in the book to get by in the South, and some of the phrases should be familiar to cable TV viewers on a steady diet of "The Andy Griffith Show" reruns.

But for folks moving to or traveling through the South, it helps avoid feeling like a short dog in high grass.

Take red-eye gravy. That will often be offered with the grits that come with breakfast if hash browns aren't specifically requested. Red-eye gravy sounds awful -- the grease from fried country ham, a dollop of black coffee and boiling water -- but rest assured, it's some kind of good eating.

You might want some coffee with that, and you might want it saucered and blowed. (That's coffee that cooled a bit by pouring some onto the saucer and blowing over it.)

And after breakfast, you might need to find the "necessary," another word for the outhouse or the facility.

Then there's "mess," as in a mess of greens.

Or "mess" as in "Ain't that Ray Wilkinson a mess?" Wilkinson, retired farm director of WRAL-TV in Raleigh, is also a collector of old stories from the South and other regions.

"I have enjoyed telling them to make people happy," Wilkinson says. "I do a little presentation called `Let's keep the fun in living.' A lot of times, people get so immersed in their day-to-day problems in life that they don't enjoy things as they travel along. I think Roy has done the same thing. His is based on the vernacular, and I do it with sort of an accent."

Some of the words have become offensive, such as pickaninny, a term for a young black child. Wilder explains that the term was introduced by slaves from the West Indies as their way of pronouncing either the Portuguese pequenino (pe-ken-EE-no) or Spanish pequeno nino (pe-KEN-yo NEE-nyo).

Wilder, who lives in Spring Hope, continues to collect Southernisms. When he's not playing golf, drinking martinis or eating chitlins, he works on a sequel. He won't say when it might be finished.

"If the golf weather is bad, it might be earlier than I expected," he says. "But if somebody calls to say `Let's play golf,' I'm gone."


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