Indians replied “wingandacon” when early English explorers asked them where they had landed. The visitors dutifully labeled the location on their map. But, you see, the Indians did not understand English. Being polite and neighborly North Carolinians, they had said “you are wearing nice clothes.”
Although we no longer speak Algonkian, our language still “might could” confuse visitors from “away,” or “comers and goers” as we call them on the Outer Banks. Let’s examine the North Carolina language to help ease that confusion. You’ll find North Carolina dialects ranging from the deep “cove” and Cherokee Indian influenced dialects of the western mountains to the “Hoi Toider” accent of the Outer Banks.
Many terms and phrases are found across the Old North State and are remnants of Elizabethan English. For instance, “kin” are the people to whom you are related. “Sass” - derived from the word “saucy” – means to speak to in an impertinent manner. Teenagers typically are guilty of sassing their parents. When the teen does this, the parent often threatens to “wear them out,” an extremely effective method of behavior modification.
We might ask you to “set a spell” on the front porch. We are asking you to visit with us for an indeterminate amount of time, not to practice witchcraft. Or, if we say we are “fixin’ to go” that means we are preparing to leave.
In other parts of the country, you might tell someone “it would be better if you did not say that to him.” Here, we’d raise the ante and say “you’d best not say that to him.”
If a North Carolinian asks you to “fetch the hosepipe” that means to drag the garden hose out. A North Carolina father who steps out on the porch and yells in a guttural voice “getonouttaheah” is either running off disruptive dogs, the neighbor’s unruly kids or his daughter’s “no account” suitors.
“You shudenoughta go right now. Work just let out and you’ll be all tore up if you have to sit in that traffic.” Translated, it means you should not go now because workers were just dismissed and you’ll be upset if you have to sit in traffic. Many visitors wear a quizzical expression in the elevator the first time a North Carolinian asks them to “mash the button” to select the floor on which they wish to get off. “Cut on the light” is another phrase guaranteed to make a visitor throw a “hissy-fit.”
People of northern persuasion often have trouble with the term “ya’ll” or “you-all.” This is a pronoun usually said when addressing two or more people, or sometimes one person who is representing a group. “All you-all” means a “big ol” group. “You-all’s” – an adjective – is the possessive form.
Some of the confusion is brought about by the way we pronounce things as well as by the terms we use. For instance, I might ask you to “fetch my coat from the clawset because I’ll be ready to go to the daints dreckly. Could you carry me over there?” This means “get my coat from the closet because I’ll soon be ready to go to the dance. Would you mind dropping me off?”
If we tell you that we have a “hot muhmuh” we are not commenting on the beauty of our wives. We’re telling you we have a serious health problem.
Just remember, if you are in our state, you are the one with the accent. So, ya’ll come and try out you-all’s new language skills. We hope ya’ll’ll set a spell. And by the way, did we tell you wingandacon?
Some Other Common Terms and Phrases:
A mess of a large portion of
All to pieces anxious, falling apart
Burning up daylight wasting time
Cove a sheltered area between hills or mountains
Cut on to turn on, usually referring to an electrical appliance
Do you dirty mistreat you
Expect believe to be true as in “I expect so.”
Give me some sugar kiss me
Hissy-fit a tantrum
Ill angry, testy
Jack-leg self-taught, usually referring to a mechanic or a preacher
Let alone much less as in “He can’t support himself let alone a family.”
Might could possibly as in “I might could go with you.”
No account, or no count worthless
Pick at pester or annoy
Proud pleased as in “I’m mighty proud to see you-all.”
Supper The evening meal, dinner
Take on To behave in a highly emotional manner. “Don’t take on so.”
Yungins, or younguns meaning young ones
For more ways to talk like a Tar Heel, check out how to pronounce odd place names in North Carolina.
added: January 3, 2009
updated: May 11, 2009
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