Gentleman and scholar: The wonderful world of linguistics and the people who say “ain’t”
By rule of thumb, the American South has been typecast as a region of stifled cultural and backwater traditionalism.
So help me God if those pedants who decided they were the guardians of social conduct and etiquette attempt to once again portray a small, secluded region of Kentucky with excessive hoopin’ and hollerin’ as the model of Southern society, and then go so far as to warp it into a deplorable cinematic commodity.
(Yes, for those of you that are wondering, I’m referring to the 1970’s Burt Reynolds film “Deliverance.”)
I will turn that pointless status-quo on its head with a maelstrom of snarky, pseudo-intelligent remarks poking fun at those who believe they are the mobilizers of progression in society, when in reality they themselves are the ones attempting to mold the ever-changing wind of language.
I want to take the time to upheave every negative preconceived notion of how the South’s language is seen as “ignorant” or “regressed” in comparison to the rest of the nation’s by offering myself, as well as my peers, as shining examples.
We are eloquent; we can critically think and analyze a piece of information to the extent that our eyes roll back into the darkness of our skulls during late hours.
I was raised in the South. Hog jaw, black-eyed peas and boiled cabbage were eaten every New Year’s Day.
My high school resided at the bottom one-percent of the national public education system; idiosyncrasies, slurred drawls and illegal moonshine were within the anatomy of over half my county’s population, and I refused to conform to the degrading lifestyle that many of my contemporaries seemed to embrace easily.
I, like many others do to this day, developed the concept that “ain’t” was the monosyllabic anthem of ignorance and stupidity, that it was an abomination that arose from the primordial soup made of up all the South’s failures to become increasingly more educated and worldly.
However, after beginning to learn what “ain’t” really meant to me I slowly began to realize the uniqueness that came with it. We all have our quirks, slang, jargon, vulgarity, profanity, transparencies and insanities.
We have our colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies. We have our words that we made up sober, sad, mad, happy, inebriated, liberated and infatuated.
To us these words possess meaning; they have explained why we felt as felt. They are ingrained into our soul and mold us into our own sense of self with definitive characteristics.
I realized that no longer should we be subject to the arbitrariness of the rule to using “I am good” as opposed to “I am doing well” when speaking to one another.
No judgment should be made when you shake the hand of a man wearing coveralls with a Southern accent as strong as the smell of motor oil on his work-stained shirt, or of the urban youth who finds passion in the spoken word, or of the Bushman who clicks in disapproval at the giant metal monsters eating away at the only home he has ever known in this world.
But, why, may I ask? Why do we let one word, or even differences in pronunciation like those that may call “Tuesday” “Tuesdy,” or ask for a “drank” instead of a “drink,” or the ever-present instinctual drawl that’s just aching to escape from your gullet and belt out from your lips and resonate through the heavens, name us as linguistic savages?
Does its uniqueness not grab you by the scruff of your neck, meet your eyes and force you to take in the bittersweet smell of Copenhagen perfuming from its corroded mouth?
Do the drawls not melt in your ears as quickly as they were enunciated?
Does the accent not rattle you to your core as the languid, honeyed words course through your beating heart and pulsating veins?
Language has no boundaries, no limits, no rules.
Language is the rhythm that keeps the beating heart of humanity alive, and language is the life-force that keeps the blood flowing.
Just like the other pretentious vagrants that believe language should be as mandated and consistent as gravity itself, I too can craft a grammatically sound passage with well-placed punctuation and thorough ideas, but it is the magic of being able to transition between this mundane form of diction and terminology and “talkin’ about da ratchet shoes dat dat side-steppin’ posa’ was wearin’ today” that gives shape to us as people.
Communication is driving rhythm forces nature to dance, to thrive, to live; it is language that creates the melody, and it is the words that give voice to those who thought they would never have been brave enough to speak otherwise.
To take something as eternal and constant as the metamorphosis of language and put it into neat little squares with footnotes, citations and annotations is achieving nothing more than successfully converting those who are seeking for their own individual voice into bland, droning automatons with large vocabularies and hollow souls.
And for that mere fact, I bite my thumb and wag my finger at those who attempt to eradicate “incorrect language” from the face of the Earth.
There is no such thing as “incorrect language,” only “language you use when you need that meeting with your investors to go well,” and “language that you use when going on a date with an attractive, but highly conservative Republican woman who believes Jesus is white and dinosaur bones were bestowed on Earth by God to test her fate,” and “language you use when it is your second public intoxication offense, you’re ten shots deep, walking the all-too-familiar razor’s edge between crisp articulation and vomiting, while the officer asks his questions concerning your dilated pupils and lack of motor skills.”
Words give us definition, and to limit what defines us is to limit ourselves as human beings, altogether. So a word to the wise to those that will make the imminent attempt to tell me to correct myself, to ensure that I always use an adverb to modify a verb, adjective or another adverb, or see to it that I don’t use contractions in my formal writing.
Oh yes, to those of you that still believe you will wander the earth, yardstick in hand, attempting to mechanize language to the point where everyone speaks as if cold, steel bolts dribbled from their lips, I have four words for you:
IT AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN.