By KIM POINDEXTER
I got into an argument with someone the other day about how to spell “y’all.” My opponent in the discussion insisted the apostrophe goes between the “a” and the first “l.” My position – the correct one, by the way – is that the apostrophe belongs safely ensconced right after the “y.”
Any fourth-grader in Oklahoma – or a few other Southern-ish states where a twang or a drawl are part of the lexicon – should know “y’all” is a contraction for “you all.” And as with any other contraction, the apostrophe is supposed to sort of stand in for the letter (or two, in this case) that have been removed.
If “it’s raining,” the little jot fills in for the “i” in “is.” If you “can’t stand contractions,” the truth is, you cannot stand them, and the squiggle has to do double duty for “n-o.”
At least my detractor did not try to claim “y’all” wasn’t a real word. Because in Oklahoma, it most certainly does belong in the everyday vernacular, even if it gives English professors at NSU conniption fits. They’ll have to accept the fact that while “ebonics” may fall by the wayside, “Okiespeak” is plumb here to stay.
“Conniption” – now there’s a word that’s just about as Okie as mustard greens or cabbage fried in bacon. Of course, in Oklahoma, we don’t so much “fry” things as we fry them “up,” and English professors aren’t merely “at NSU.” They’re “up at NSU,” or in a worst-case scenario, they’re “up to NSU,” but either way, they’ve about had it up to here – wherever THAT is – with our crucifixion of the cherished language. Especially when we describe them as being “up yonder at the college,” which we often do, even though local folks know full well it’s a university.
In Oklahoma, by the way, we like to be called “folks” rather than the bland, nondescriptive “people.” All humans are people, but only good, decent, down-home folks can be “folks.” We may call our parents “the folks,” but the article – the word “the” – is absolutely necessary. The folks aren’t just any old folks, but they – and other types of folks – can eventually move into an “old folks home.” That’s what we Okies call them, anyway; high-falutin’ types call them “retirement centers” or “senior living facilities.” (By the way, have you ever seen it written “high-faluting”? The “g” seems oddly out of place in this and any other word that ends in “-ing.”)
But it’s not just the words we Okies use, and the way we use them, that makes us the brunt of so many jokes. It’s the way we pronounce them – a way that seems easily recognizable by people from other parts of the country.
We Okies sure enough like to eat eggs, but in our case, we “shore nuff” like chicken embryos, which we pronounce “aigs.” Those “aigs” (or more properly, “them aigs”) have to come with a side of meat. Usually it’s bacon, but sometimes it’s sausage, and occasionally it’s ham – just as long as it comes from some part of a “hawg.” A high school classmate of mine, Earnest Nero, grossed out our entire typing class during a timed test by suddenly asking the teacher – the hapless Mr. Johnson – whether he had ever eaten hog brain and eggs. Since Earnie was (and is) an Okie, the question sounded like this: “You ever ate hawg brain and aigs?” Mr. Johnson hadn’t dined on this particular delicacy, nor did he want to.
We eat an awful lot of “aigs” in Oklahoma (and by “awful” we don’t intend to judge the quality of the eggs), and most of us like ‘em over-easy. (The aforementioned “’em,” of course, is meant to signify the third-person predicative pronoun “them,” but you’ll never hear an Okie sound out the “th.”) Sometimes we eat deviled eggs, which can present especially malodorous problems later, as a local store employee demonstrated several years ago when she entered a bathroom with all the stalls occupied: “Shoooo-eee! Smell lack someone been eatin’ aigs!” “Lack” is how Okies pronounce “like.” I’m not sure how to spell “shooo-eee,” but it’s a definitive Okie exclamation that indicates the presence of a bad smell.
If we eat “aigs,” it stands to reason we walk around on “laigs,” unless for some reason, the person in question can’t walk. It might be, as an Okie would explain it, that “I’m down on my back,” or maybe “I got myself a charley horse” – because in Oklahoma, we don’t get anything as mundane as a leg cramp. We do “get” things ourselves a lot – “I got myself a new girlfriend,” or “I got myself a real jerk for a boss,” and we issue commands along those same lines: “You git yourself over here!” (We say “got,” but not “get” – in Okiespeak, the proper word is “git.”)
Once someone has been to the store and back, we say he “had went” there at some point in the past. But we don’t always need those verbs like “had” or “have” to hold us back; it’s adequate to confess, “I was up to the courthouse, and I seen your mother bailin’ your brother outta jail agin.” We Okies have “seen” a lot. And just because we “like to” do something doesn’t mean we accord it with any particular favor: “When I seen that dead cow with them blowflies on it, I like to threw up.” The speaker doesn’t mean he enjoys vomiting; he’s merely saying he almost commenced vomiting. We Okies are always “commencing” one activity or another.
Lifelong Okies have trouble distinguishing a soft “e” from a soft “i,” which means we can’t tell a “pen” from a “pin.” In fact, sometimes we add a soft “u” for good measure: “Would you hand me that ink pih-un?” This turns a rather simple one-syllable word into a two-parter. A similar tactic is often employed by died-in-the-wool Okies who say my name: It comes out as “Kee-ohm,” like some weird new meditative sound.
We Okies get “aggravated” more than we get angry, and if we’re in a bad mood, we’re “cranky.” When we get “tickled,” it doesn’t necessary mean a goochy-goochy-GOO under the armpit. We sometimes like to “sit a spell,” and many of us suffer from nebulous “spells” – neither of which have anything to do with grammar or witchcraft. When we do “have a spell,” a doctor might write us a “perscription” because we weren’t just “kind of sick,” but because we were “kinely sicky.”
And I don’t care what anyone else says. That sugary, flavored water we drink is “pop.” If we do bother to precede that word with “soda,” we pronounce it “sody,” and then follow it up with the noun.
That ain’t all we do, neither. But I’ve done run out of space, so ya’ll’ll have to wait a piece.
Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.