Growing up in the South, I was exposed to the wonderfully lurid dialect of a world that I’m afraid has disappeared without much more trace than my inability to say the word “oyster” (as dear Diane von Austinberg points out, I inevitably pronounce it OISH-chuh.)
My grandmother was able to announce “that boy is just not right” and have her inflection specify anything from mental disability to criminal tendencies (plenty of that in my family. Or “Fambly,” as we would say) to homosexuality (that would be me.) When my other granny would glare at you and growl “I am fixin’ to straighten you out boyuh,” it was time to run. I was a grown man before I realized the words “ball” and “boil” were not homonyms. And it has only been R Man’s patient tutelage that has taught me to move the accent from the first syllable in “insurance” to the second one. Who knew?
But I have now lived in California so long that my accent has been scrubbed clean. At least, it seems like it to me, so I’m always surprised when people I meet claim to be able to hear it in my voice. I assure them that this is nothing since I originally sounded like a road show version of Tennessee Williams’ greatest hits. Still, sometimes I hear “dollar” roll out of my mouth in the form of “dollah.” And I have been met with blank stares when I use the simile “Running around like a monkey with its ass on fire” to describe how busy I am. At least I pronounce it as “fire” and not “fahr” so that has to count as progress, right?