Tag Archives: Sound southern

59. How to Sound Southern: Accent the First Syllable

19 Jan

Photo by Tom Hynds, Flickr Creative Commons

I’ve never been particularly drawly, even less so having lived outside the South for lo these last 16 years. However, my Dixie tends to slip out around midnight, when I’m too tired (tarred) to add a “g” to the end of every word. You’ll also hear a drawl if I’ve had one drink too many (or maybe that’s just a slur). And if you hear me chatting with my Mississippi peeps on the phone, you might think you’ve happened upon an extremely low budget remake of Steel Magnolias. (I’ll be the one playing Ouiser.)

Considering my non-drawliness, I was surprised when Geoff called me on my pronunciation of ordinary, everyday words. He said, “Say I-N-S-U-R-A-N-C-E.” It took me a few moments to figure out what on earth he wanted me to say. (I can hardly ever spell things aloud, which is why I have a hard time around small children.) When I figure it out, I say, “INsurance.” He says, “It’s pronounced inSURance.” We argue about this for as long as it takes him to pull up some bogus pronunciation tutorial on the Internet that agrees with him.

Once he’s on a roll, he gets me to say words like HALLoween, THANKSgiving, TEEvee, UMbrella, and JUly (which sounds like JEWly).

I had never before noticed that folks in Seattle had such freakish pronunciation. teeVEE? thanksGIVING? Seriously?

Of course, I immediately consulted my Southern friends to assess their pronunciation. Sure enough, we tend shift the emphasis to the first syllables of certain words, Merriam Webster be damned!

I can’t tell you why we do it anymore than I can tell you how folks manage to stretch my name into three syllables: KEE-EE-UM.

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