Sunday, April 24, 2011

Pounding Sand: What is the Best Regional Expression?

Linguists say that in contradiction to an increasingly homogenized landscape of strip malls and chain restaurants, the way we speak is becoming more regionalized.  That is, dialects are becoming more distinct rather less so, despite geographic mobility.  Once I had to serve as a translator between a waitress from Shreveport and my father, who is from the Ottawa Valley.  Technically, they both speak English, yet neither could make sense of what the other was saying. 

Remember Bob and Doug McKenzie?  Everyone at my high school sounded quite a bit like that.  But the real expressions I associate with my home and native land are from my mom.  She doesn't have the accent to the degree my father does, but conversations with her are peppered with the marvelous similes, many of them harking back to farm life in Eastern Ontario, circa 1950.  An unfortunate girl, for example, might have legs like stovepipes. In early June days in shorts, those same gams might be as white as the driven snow.  Even worse, the poor thing might be as homely as a brush fence. A fellow who is parsimonious is as tight as bark to a tree.  A weird guy? Odd as Dick's hat. No idea where that one comes from, but I love it.

Texas, of course, has some dillies in the figure of speech area.  Once I got dug in, I heard a passel of them. Somebody who's looking rough has been rode hard and put up wet. If something bugs you, you're hacked off or it flies all over you. Dallas traffic is just a big 'ol rockfight.  If you want to beat someone up, you're going to open up a can of whuppass on them. I've been told by a boss that I was trying to sell him a pig in a poke. My response: "I don't know what that means, sir," cut no ice with him. Though I am doubtful he would know what that meant. And he would still have been hacked off at me.

Truly regional expressions frequently need considerable thought for outsiders to sort out, and translation is demanded in some cases.  I once heard a lawyer from the south side of Chicago say, "If I ask my client to do that, he'll tell me to go pound sand." Go pound sand? I called my assistant at the time, who is a native.  She couldn't stop laughing when I asked.  "My Dad's from the south side.  The full expression is go pound sand up your ass." This helped.  

Then there is my friend from Alabama, a whole other kettle of fish in terms of language and pretty much everything else. When our kids were young and we were asking our husbands if we might go out for a girls' night (this was a decade ago, for you outraged young women wondering why we had to ask) she kidded about getting a kitchen pass. My absolute favorite from her--actually, my favorite period, for now--is about fixing for a fight.  "By the time he showed up," she said about a mutual acquaintance who was later to split the sheets with her husband, "she was loaded for bear." I could tell by her tone that it had turned into a rockfight, but it took me a minute.  Oh, a shotgun. Not loaded for squirrel. 

I am endlessly delighted by these figures of speech, even more so when they must be explained to me.  So, my readers, indulge me and send me your favorites.  Translations welcome.


  1. My nephew still laughs about the time I said I burned the pizza to a fare-thee-well. And Colin never got over the time I got my feelings hurt by someone and said my nose as out of join.

  2. Oh, I am on that like white on rice.