The Symptoms

Illustrated Tantrums by Ashley Holt

Ashley Holt

Ashley Holt
Birthday
December 04
Bio
Ashley Holt is an illustrator and opinionated crank living in the bygone century known as South Carolina. His wide variety of neurotic quirks and extreme sensitivity to broad social trends are chronicled as The Symptoms, an illustrated blog of sophisticated tantrums. Ashley's work has appeared in many defunct publications and hard-to-sell books. He is considered a complete failure by those envious of his genius. He has a website for some reason: www.ashleyholt.com

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APRIL 25, 2012 12:04PM

The Mouth Shall Rise Again

Rate: 17 Flag

Twang 

You might not know it from the top hat and monocle I wear to the opera these days, but I was born a hillbilly. I was a redneck trailer park child, raised amid the pluff mud and pork rinds of the South Carolina Low Country. I ate grits with every meal, fished for tadpoles and fiddler crabs in a nearby creek, and owned no shoes until the age of twelve. And of course, from the moment I first said “mawmuh,” I spoke with a nauseating Southern twang.


In my high, girlish tones, my speech sounded something like Gomer Pyle reciting Eudora Welty. With the hiccups. This wasn’t considered unusual, naturally; listening to my parents argue would make you think Ben Matlock and Blanche DuBois got married. And my cousins are plagued with even more brutal hog-calling pipes, sounding like the cast of Hee Haw during a pie-eating contest. The half-yodel style of Southern speak oozed freely from us all like syrup from Mrs. Butterworth’s skull. It seemed as natural to us as catfish on Christmas.


But as my cognitive awareness sharpened with my maturity, I began to notice something in my rustic environs. It was a glowing box that sat in the corner of our tarpaper shack, and it produced a wide variety of sounds and pictures. They told me it was called television, and as I focused on the voices and images it produced, I noticed that television had one particular message it wanted to impart to me: Southerners are morons. From Sheriff Taylor to Huckleberry Hound to Boss Hogg, anyone drawling with a Southern accent on TV was invariably a jabbering doofus.  Even movie and TV dramas striving for realism marched the fat, Southern Sheriff out of Central Casting to bellow, “You in a whole heapa trouble, bwoy!” while wrestling Harvard graduates to the ground. TV showed me what my peers didn’t want to admit; that a Southern drawl was indicative of drooling stupidity. 

Intelligence, dependability, expertise, or even streetwise cockiness – these were qualities never expressed with a Southern accent. Kojak never assessed a murder scene with “Shoooey! Them head wounds is a’bleedin’ sumpin awful!” Julia Child never advised viewers to “get you some nanners in that puddin’,” nor did Cronkite end his newscast with “That thar’s how it is.” Sophisticated television personalities, from game show hosts to wisecracking sitcoms kids, spoke with velvet tones in sharp patterns foreign to my bumpkin ears. But if any of these TV programs wished to impart that a character had trouble tying his shoes due to a brain injury, that character hailed from Georgia or Alabama. The message got through to me: people viewed a Southern accent as a symptom of a learning disability.

It might not have been so bad if I had developed the Southern accent I preferred. While my family, all born in Upstate South Carolina, grew up among moonshining hayseeds, I was the black sheep from Charleston, surrounded by plantation-dwelling aristocrats. If I had to speak in Southern tones, what I wanted were the genteel vocal stylings of the local mint julep society, the Scarlett O’Haras and Foghorn Leghorns of the upper crust. I wanted the drowsy, magnolia-sniffing demeanor of the educated Southern playwright, lazing in the Carolina breeze, admonishing a hound dog – “Beaufort” or “Beauregard” – to stop licking his particulars and go and fetch the Evening Courier. But I sounded more like Junior Samples than Big Daddy. I needed a complete vocal relocation, not just across county lines, but across the Mason-Dixon. 

And if there was any doubt about this mission, my course was made clear when I started first grade. Because much to my horror, when I spoke up in class or on the playground, spewing my slack-jawed twang in all directions, the black kids made fun of me. And though I didn’t understand much about the laws of social interaction then, I knew instinctively that if black kids disapproved of your dress, speech, or mannerisms, any hope of attaining coolness could be forever lost. I had to ensure that these classmates would stop calling me “Jethro” immediately.

But this would prove to be more than just a change in dialect. Correcting my Southernisms would mean a break with the traditions of my village and a reevaluation of even the simplest of daily routines. No longer would I ask someone to “carry” me to K-Mart when what I actually wanted was a ride in the car. No longer would I refer to the store in the inappropriate possessive form, “K-Mart’s,” as if the store were owned and operated by Reginald K-Mart (some locations, such as Piggly Wiggly, I would refuse to say out loud at all). I would select a shopping cart at the store rather than a buggy (pronounced “bew-gie”), and I would ask for money from my mother’s purse rather than her “pocket buke.” If purchasing soft drinks, I would call them by their individual brand names instead of calling them all “Coke,” and when quoting the price, I would properly pluralize “89 cents.” This was a radical stance I was taking.

I studied the available A/V material and learned to mimic everyone from David Brinkley to Captain Kangaroo. I developed a handy method for determining the correct approach to speech: listen to what my father said, then imagine it coming out of Darth Vader. If it didn’t sound right in the voice of James Earl Jones, I didn’t say it. As you can imagine, this break with my chicken-fried upbringing was considered tantamount to flag-burning in the name of Allah by my friends and family. It didn’t help that, once the counterculture influences began to creep in, I was not only enunciating sharply, but adding the word “man” to the end of every statement. I was bringing both ivory tower intellectualism and Greenwich Village cool into our home in my one-man War of Northern Aggression.

It’s debatable how successful I was in kicking the cracker speak. To this day, when talking with any family member on the phone, my jaw will loosen as if I have a mouthful of mashed ‘tators and I begin to “reckon” and “declare.” Without immediate correction, I will be reduced to guttural “gol derns” within seconds. The swampy roots of Southernism cling deep in the marsh. Despite embracing the King’s English, I will admit to feelings of comfortable familiarity if the waitress calls me “baby doll,” and I never trust an auto mechanic to even refill my washer fluid unless he sounds like Buck Owens. But I feel my transformation from Goober to Gallant is proof that the Southern accent is a correctable speech impediment, just like stuttering or whatever it is that’s wrong with Barbara Walters. If only General Sherman, rather than burning everything in his path, had marched a team of Rex Harrisons through the South to help us understand what the rain in Spain was up to, maybe we wouldn’t all sound like we’re throwing up hotdogs when we’re giving directions.

I’ve come to terms with my accent these days, laced with detectable traces of Nascar fandom, but with aspirations to Toastmasters. But what galls me when considering my struggle with doofus mouth disease is knowing that somewhere out there is a student at Cambridge or Julliard, studying for the stage. He’s perfecting his New England cadence to recite Shakespearian soliloquies, musically rolling his r’s with the refined diction of a young Olivier.

And when he graduates, his dream is to play a fat, Southern Sheriff.

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Comments

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dont feel too bad. dukes of hazzard was made into a hollywood movie. I thought it wasnt that bad. back when jessica simpson was just a babe without all the extra symbolic baggage =)
My family comes from an Alabama pines -- an accent of pure turpentine. I left that behind and I've found that those of us who are very social take on whatever's being talked back at us. I do it without even thinking, and if someone stopped to think, they might take it as mockery. But it's not that.
congrats on the front page! top position! but dude, only 4 ratings... one of em mine... hate to break it to ya buddy but it looks like I have a bigger audience with absolutely zilch help from the editors. dont worry, Im not bitter. you definitely can have the last laugh. =)
it looks like you havent truly overcome the stigma my man. or at least, you did in RL but now its the same ol challenge all over again in cyberspace haha :p
Fun. Accents are tricky. I've met several guys who purposely removed their suthn accents so they would not be considered bigots. Thanks for your post.
Bless your heart! ;)

You shouldn't feel bad about your accent. The "traditional" southern accent is derived from the upper class British accent, it's just drawn out a bit more. There are several different southern accents that derive from the Scots and French as well. Check it out.
It always used to amuse my northern peers when I stated I was 'fixing' or 'aiming' to do something. And of course they never learned how to Jim-Joe-Willie anything, no matter how many times I tried to school them on the technique.
I declare this was a hoot.
I’m havin’ a hard time feelin’ for ya, Ashley!

I’m born and raised in Noo Joisey…and we get a lot more shit about how we speak than youse guys…although most of us think it is youse what have the accents.

Anyways, I gotcher accent right heah (he said pointing south of his belt).
Yeah, we know that routine, already, frank; used to be like a tire iron, but now can be bent in half! Great.
I'm told I have no accent. So many have told me this that I've come to believe it. I can imitate my hometown Philly accent very well, even my mom's NYC accent, but it really may be that I am accentleess.

r.
Well. I grew up in GA and had a southern accent. It was however the accent of educated southerners. Sure we sprinkled some terms in for effect. I knew people who "were fixin to" and "carried someone somewhere" but I did not hear that in my home nor would I say that. "Ain't" and "yonder" were particular favorites of mine, but I knew when and where I could say them. The family had more than it's share of public school teachers who would have lectured for hours.
I do not have much of an accent now, though I can mimic it fairly well. I love to hear a true Georgia accent...soft and soothing.
There is a difference between southern, redneck and white trash.
Not all southerners are Goober or Boss Hogg or Jed for that matter, just as all people from New Jersey are not Snookie. Former President Jimmy Carter is from GA, Jon Stewart is from NJ.
Thank you for a splendid article that makes me laugh and think about my long-gone southern accent. I find I still use a few "southernisms" on occasion although I have been called a Yankee by just a couple of locals who don't accept southerners or anyone outside of their tiny group. Fortunately, it doesn't matter to those I grew up with that I came back without my old way of talking, I am still their friend.
My parents were kids of poor sharecroppers but they instilled a love of learning in us and accepting everyone no matter how they talked. It was more about how they acted that mattered.
Liberal Southern Democrat, your comments remind me of my upbringing. You are absolutely right about the range of people in a given area regardless of geography. More people need to remember that before they judge or stereotype.
Thankee kindly for readin', y'all!
I was born in Napa, California. My Mom was born in Sacramento, California. Mah Daddy, welp, he were born in Jonesbrah, Arkansaw. My Daddy, bless his ole cantankerous hart, last I checked on him, still said, "Styreofoam, Warshing Machine, Aereoplane and cain't, ain't, airn't and izzatso."

I grew up in the one place in the country (maybe with the exception of Upstate New York) that basically doesn't have an accent. I grew up saying, "Y'all, druthers, t'aint so, country mile, shucks, gol darnit and managed to always give a friendly wave and smile to all my kinfolk.

So I can relate.

I never laughed this hard over the quaint speech of the less well heeled folk.

As an aside, I spent time in Jonesboro, Ark, when I was 12. By then I was a full on Californian who could mimic the patios of Arkansan speech quite well on command, like a huntin' dawg sniffin' fer coon.

Even so, it was a very painful lesson for me to learn that the slow speech, funky mannerisms and colloquial expressions had nothing to do with how smart or dumb my classmates were. I can't tell you how well and truly fooled I have been, many times over, taken in by the soft dulcet tones of slow speaking and earnest drawl into a bet or wager that lost me money, face and respect -- again and again.

Never again. I have learned that to opine intelligence (or lack thereof) based on how someone talks is a really stupid thing to do or count on as a benchmark.

Thanks for bringin' somadat down home talkin' to life and memory. And thanks even more for the humor. That war grate, son.

--r--
Another hilarious article that I was greatly entertained by. My mom from Nebraska used to wash her teeth and get carried to the store as well--also, we always went to Jean's or Shirley's (house?). The dog was walked via a lish. We were brutal to her as children and tried to put her on a rigorous training course such as yours. Success was debatable. (All I have to worry about is the WisCONsin nasal I hear popping out every now and again--I punch myself whenever it happens.)
I swear, the world must have ended because no one is writing.
Another dumb character with a hick Southern accent was Goofy.

To me there are many beautiful varieties of Southern accent, but the accent/accents that really sound backward to me is the middle America one. The accent that every singe American tourist I've ever encountered has.
I'm not passing judgement on the poor souls brought up in the central US, it's just that I find the accent particularly grating.
But then again, I've got a Johannesburg accent, and an easy way to imagine that, is to imagine a typical middle class English accent, and then remove the passion and charm. Looking for cheapest auto insurance in Florida?