The Mind’s Ear


A long time ago in a galaxy far away (Well, it was in this galaxy, but the Ozark Hills be be a world of their own), I was around six or seven years old when I wrote a story that somehow involved a chest of drawers.  With pencil poised above the paper (remember those days?), I asked my mom “Do you spell chester in chester drawers as one word, or is it actually two?”

According to the dialect around me, that was how you pronounced chest of drawers.  The use of dialect in fictional conversations used to be fairly common.  When Harold Bell Wright wrote The Shepherd of the Hills, it became a bestseller despite dialogue that would mystify readers today.

Thanks to modern technology, regional peculiarities in speech are fading (to our loss, I believe).  Likewise modern writing tries to avoid dialect when characters speak.  Trying to decipher “She tuck tuther road outen town to see the jedge’s arse” can bring the reading process to a halt.

(Note: The translation is “She took the other road out of town to see the judge’s iris.”)

But dialect doesn’t have to be avoided like the plague.  If you have a character that’s a good ol’ country boy, it won’t hurt to have him say “That feller is no more than a possum-farmer.”  It alludes to his way of speaking without confusing the reader.

(Note: A possum-farmer is someone who lives on a farm, but is more devoted to hunting than agriculture.)

While we’re on the subject of hillbilly dialect, don’t assume our forebears were just butchering English.  Folks who have devoted a part of their lives to studying this stuff have discovered what appear to be survivals of early English.  Again, these usages are passing into history, but you might be interested to know:

Et, the pronunciation for ate, has also been common among educated Englishmen.  Our proclivity for droppin’ the G in gerunds was well known to Elizabethans.  And some peculiar past tense forms, such as rid for rode or riz for rose, are found in many English writings from the eighteenth century and earlier.

Although that prolific writer Anonymous penned the following poem, one has to wonder if his hillbilly roots are showing:

I sneezed a sneeze into the air;

It fell to ground I know not where

But hard and cold were the looks of those

In whose vicinity I snoze.

Y’all come back now, you hear?

4 thoughts on “The Mind’s Ear

  1. Great to hear you defending the vernacular of yore, AE. Like you, I worry about the loss of descriptors and sayings to the homogenisation of that great maw, the interweb. There are no replacements for gems like these from our own Australian culture:
    He’s got kangaroos in his top paddock – He’s crazy.
    Useful as a hip pocket in a singlet – Totally useless
    Cow cocky – cattle farmer
    Your blood’s worth bottling – You’re a good person who’s done me a favour
    Drongo – stupid person
    Wouldn’t be dead for quids – good to be alive

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, it started with radio and television and has been going on since. We’ve got more of them, too, like “cutting the big Jimson” means doing a task that takes intelligence and/or skill; or “sit on the blister” means coping with consequences of a poor choice. You have some real doozies there – if I ever use any Australian characters in a story, I might have to steal a couple of those! 😉


      • Some more for your Aus slang collection:
        Budgie smugglers – men’s brief swimming gear
        Cackleberry – egg
        Dead horse – sauce
        Legless – very drunk
        Sparrow’s fart – first light
        Septic tank – Yank (i.e. American) – usually used in a friendly way

        Liked by 1 person

      • You Aussies and we hillbillies are both colorful about describing things! The cackleberry reminded me of our term dingleberry. To describe it delicately, let’s just say we had a hen once nicknamed Dingleberry because that part of her anatomy where eggs come from got encrusted with material that also comes from that vicinity. Thanks for the cultural exchange! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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