Marisa's Guide to Speaking Southernese

by Marisa Bush

On my first day as an employee at the Vanderbilt Heart Institute I met a co-worker who was originally from Vermont. She had been living in Tennessee for about three years at the time and the language here never ceased to amaze her. Since she chose to be a Southerner (and I didn't, really, I was born here, I just chose not to move too far away), I chose to look upon her amusement at our way of speaking with a sense of amusement of my own. After all, just because I have lived in Tennessee for most of my life (the exception being four years in Kentucky - WHOA! I really went way up north, didn't I?) doesn't mean I can't appreciate what it must be like for someone to come here from somewhere else. My brother moved from Tennessee to New Jersey! And my ex-sister-in-law had actually been born in another country! I digress. I do that often.

We had worked together for a couple of months when a patient from Greenbrier (just north of my hometown of Ridgetop...and by just north I mean, if you take three steps north of the city limits, you'll be in Greenbrier) visited our department. He said that the weatherman was calling for "snow flurries." Only he said it like old guys from Greenbrier do...snow "flerries." And she thought he was saying snow "fairies."

A few months later we had a patient whom she really could not understand. He did have a unique voice, which added to the confusion. He was from the same county as my father-in-law had been. She came into the room later to hear the patient and me in an animated discussion. She expressed amazement. I told her simply that "I speak Coffee Countian." I'm proud of it, too!

One day, I don't remember when exactly, she asked me to say the name of that town between Ridgetop and Madison, where Rivergate Mall is located. I said "Goodlettsville." She said, "No, no, say it the way people there say it."

I never skipped a beat or even looked up from what I was doing. "Guh-luts-vull." (and that's as close as I can get in print. I think you have to hear it.)

Hey, I used to live there. I know. Actually, that's how I thought it was pronounced until I read the city limits sign for myself.

I told her my favorite town name, or mispronunciation of such, is "Murfspur." The real name of this town, of course, is Murfreesboro.

And so the idea was born. Here are some others.

The county between Montgomery and Henry is pronounced "Steert." It is really Stewart, but that isn't how most people say it.

The county seat of Houston County is Erin. This is pronounced "Ear-in" by most people in that area.

The name of the town famous for its Walking Horse Celebration is "Shebvul." That would translate to Shelbyville, and like Guhlutsvul, is hard to put into print.

The town between I-40 and Linden is "Lobavul," or Lobelville for the non-locals.

So eventually I may put a real "guide" on here, but it's really just a collection of funny ways we say things here. And if you're offended, I'm sorry. I am really only poking fun at myself, because I have said every one of those names myself in actual conversations. Except Steert County. That one is courtesy of my husband, the former disc jockey.

 

This was written on January 6, 2008.


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