(Part 2 of my intermittent series of posts discussing good things about the South.)
It is rare to hear a true Southern accent in Cary.
North Carolinians joke that the name of the suburb I call home is actually an acronym for Concentrated Area of Relocated Yankees. Less light-hearted versions of the acronym include “Containment Area for Relocated Yankees” or “Can’t Afford Raleigh Yet”. Cary has seen rapid growth during the past 10 years or so, largely due to the expansion of nearby Research Triangle Park. RTP is a national hub for science, technology, healthcare, and communications companies, including giants like IBM, Glaxo Wellcome, and Cisco Systems. Especially in the past decade, people have been relocating from the North (especially New York/New Jersey) to move to the Triangle area. Not to be confused with the Triad (Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point), the Triangle metro area encompasses Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. Cary’s actually the “third largest municipality in the Triangle after Raleigh and Durham” (yes, I Wikipedia-ed that), but it isn’t included as an official Triangle city. Huh.
Because nobody in Cary is actually from Cary, it’s tough to find a good accent here. However, I’ve found that even though most people here don’t talk like Southerners, they still raise their kids with Southern manners.
Yes, people say “y’all”. Not always with a drawl (syrupy, twangy, or otherwise), but they say it. I like y’all. You all. It’s an inclusive term, and it’s much nicer than “you guys” or, god forbid, “yins”. My favorite y’all usage is the all-too-rare y’all contraction “y’all’re”. You all are. As in “Y’all’re goin’ to the beach this weekend?” I looooove a good y’all contraction.
Adults and children alike are infinitely more polite in the South than in the North. Everyone says “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.” It’s never “Mrs. Smith”, always “Ms. Smith”—married or not. Even a familiar adult is usually “Ms. Kelly” or “Mr. Brian”, not simply “Kelly” or “Brian”. When I babysit, parents instruct their children to call me “Miss Amy”, not just Amy. Same goes for teaching lessons—if parents haven’t specifically instructed their children to call me “Miss Amy”, then it’s “Coach Amy”. People in the South (not just from the South) have great respect for titles and positions.
Now, people who move to NC can pick up manners and y’all’ses (any excuse for a y’all contraction!) right quick, but it takes some time before transplants understand and adopt the delightful pronunciations and eccentricities of Southern speech.
To start, it is essential to understand that “bless her heart” is NOT a kind sentiment. Next time you’re wandering through the produce section at the Teeter, you might overhear a woman say, “Mary Anne, bless her heart, did not know what she was getting in to with our carpool. She’s just been so busy lately!” This might sound like inane supermarket chatter, but the astute listener will know that poor Mary Anne was just majorly dissed. “Bless her heart” is not an expression of pity or compassion. “Bless her heart” means something along the lines of “what an idiot”.
Next, the infamous “might could”. This expression, a fantastic double modal, means that you may be willing/able to do something in the future. “I might could help you clean out the garage. Then again, I might could not.” Simply wonderful.
Perhaps my favorite Southern expression is “put up”. On my first day of school in North Carolina, my history teacher instructed the class to “put up the books”. I’ve always been pretty good at following directions, so, naturally, I grabbed my textbook and held it in my raised hand. Nope. To “put up” is to put away, to store. I believe the phrase has agricultural origins, as in “put the tractors up in the barn”. For an excellent musical example of “put up”, see Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy”. You’re welcome for that earworm.
Besides all of the interesting turns of phrase that North Carolinians have cultivated over the years (and I didn’t even discuss “chunking a ball” or “mashing a button”!), Southerners have developed unique ways of pronouncing certain words. Bics, Biros, and ballpoints are “pins” (pens). Crayolas are “crowns” (crayons). “App-a-latch-in” (Appalachian) State University, home of the “Mao-in-eers” (Mountaineers), is out in Boone. “Top-sul” (Topsail) Island, “Cure-ey” (Kure) Beach, “Bo-fert” (Beaufort), and “Oak-ra-coke” (Okracoke) are beach towns. Don’t even bother with Conetoe, Fuquay-Varina, Zebulon, or Fayetteville.
It’s tough to find someone in Cary who speaks like Scarlett O’Hara or Forrest Gump, but it’s simple to listen for and enjoy the regional niceties and expressions that transplants pick up.