Are you from Dixie

I’ve been feeling some Southern nostalgia for the past couple weeks, and one of my favorite all-time, any-genre musicians is Jerry Reed. Mind you, I’m  not a diehard Country Music fan, but I go on Jerry Reed binges. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Reed at the Morgan County Fair several years back, to give a date to the performance, he was promoting his role as Coach Red Beaulieu in The Waterboy, which was about to hit the theaters. I have a hard time picking a favorite Jerry Reed song, with Amos Moses being pretty high up there, but today I want to talk about Are you from Dixie (‘Cause I’m from Dixie too).

One thing I didn’t know until I wanted to write this post about is just how old that song is. According to the greatest source of information on Earth, the song was written in 1915 by Jack Yellen and George Cobb. Here is one of the earliest recordings of the song:

I had no idea the song was almost one hundred years old. There have been several artists who’ve recorded a version of it over the years, but in my biased opinion, Jerry Reed’s rendition is still the best.


Over the course of a week I am forwarded many emails, some witty, some not, but this particular one is worth sharing. There are several variants of it floating across the ether, but this is the one that I received (hyperlinks are my addition):

  • Southerners know the movies that speak to their hearts:
  • Southerners know their religions:
  • Southerners know their cities dripping with Southern charm[1]:
  • Southerners know their elegant gentlemen:
  • Only a Southerner knows the difference between a hissie fit and a conniption fit, and that you don’t “HAVE” them,you “PITCH” them.
  • Only a Southerner knows how many fish, collard greens, turnip greens, peas, beans, etc., make up “a mess.”
  • Only a Southerner can show or point out to you the general direction of “yonder.”
  • Only a Southerner knows exactly how long “directly” is, as in: “Going to town, be back directly.”
  • Even Southern babies know that “Gimme some sugar” is not a request for the white, granular, sweet substance that sits in a pretty little bowl in the middle of the table.
  • All Southerners know exactly when “by and by” is. They might not use the term, but they know the concept well.
  • Only a Southerner knows instinctively that the best gesture of solace for a neighbor who’s got trouble is a plate of hot fried chicken and a big bowl of cold potato salad. If the neighbor’s trouble is a real crisis, they also know to add a large banana puddin’!
  • Only Southerners grow up knowing the difference between “right near” and “a right far piece.” They also know that”just down the road” can be 1 mile or 20.
  • Only a Southerner both knows and understands the difference between a redneck, a good ol’ boy, and po’ white trash.
  • No true Southerner would ever assume that the car with the flashing turn signal is actually going to make a turn.
  • A Southerner knows that “fixin” can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adverb.
  • Only Southerners make friends while standing in lines, … and when we’re “in line,”… we talk to everybody!
  • Put 100 Southerners in a room and half of them will discover they’re related, even if only by marriage.
  • In the South, “y’all” is singular, “all y’all” is plural.
  • Southerners know grits come from corn and how to eat them.
  • Every Southerner knows that tomatoes with eggs, bacon, grits, and coffee are perfectly wonderful; that red eye gravy is also a breakfast food; that scrambled eggs just ain’t right without Tabasco , and that fried green tomatoes are not a breakfast food.
  • When you hear someone say, “Well, I caught myself lookin’,” you know you are in the presence of a genuine Southerner!
  • Only true Southerners say “sweet tea” and “sweet milk.” Sweet tea indicates the need for sugar and lots of it — we do not like our tea unsweetened. “Sweet milk” means you don’t want buttermilk.
  • And a true Southerner knows you don’t scream obscenities at little old ladies who drive 30 MPH on the freeway. You just say,”Bless her sweet little heart”… and go your own way.
  • To those of you who are still a little embarrassed by your Southernness: Take two tent revivals and a dose of sausage gravy and call me in the morning. Bless your little heart!
  • And to those of you who are still having a hard time understanding all this Southern stuff….bless your hearts, I hear they’re fixin’ to have classes on Southernness as a second language[3]!
  • Southern girls know men may come and go, but friends are fah-evah !
  • There ain’t no magazine named “Northern Living” for good reason. There ain’t nobody interested in livin’ up north, nobody would buy the magazine!
  • Now Shugah, send this to someone who was raised in the South or wish they had a’been! If you’re a Northern transplant, bless your little heart, fake it. We know you got here as fast as you could.

[1] I’ve not had an opportunity to visit Ft. Worth, but I’ve had various fun at the other cities:

[2] I know… I know… he’s not in a tuxedo, but how could I pass up the opportunity to show a picture of Colonel Sanders in a reference to Southern men dressed up?

[3] In reading the text above, if you find your Southern American English skills lacking, I recommend How to Speak Southern by Steve Mitchell and Southern Talk: A Disappearing Language by Ray Cunningham.

Mye ack-scent

I don’t think anyone who has ever heard me speak has made this mistake:

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What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North
You may think you speak “Standard English straight out of the dictionary” but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like “Are you from Wisconsin?” or “Are you from Chicago?” Chances are you call carbonated drinks “pop.”

The Northeast


The Midland

The South


The West

North Central

No, when I step away from Ahl-uh-bamm-uh, I get asked annoying questions like “Did your family tree fork and then come back together, or did it always run straight up?”. Chances are I call carbonated drinks “coke” (not “co-colla” like many of my Southern brethren, however). I have spent the greater part of my life minimizing my accent on account of being taunted by other crackers because my accent was so bad, and the negative connotations that come with it. I am reminded of a joke from Jeff Foxworthy’s Games Rednecks Play album that he later summed up in an episode of Do you Speak American:

You know I mean some of the, the most intelligent people I’ve ever known talk like I do. In fact I used to do a joke about that, about you know the Southern accent, I said nobody wants to hear their brain surgeon say, ‘Al’ight now what we’re gonna do is, saw the top of your head off, root around in there with a stick and see if we can’t find that dad burn clot.’

[Update 2 April 2013]
The Telegraph posted an article today on this topic. From the article:

Five per cent of those surveyed said they have overplayed their own natural accent and six per cent have softened it.

Six per cent have tried using a different regional accent and four per cent have adopted a fake foreign one, said the survey.

Those most likely to reduce their natural accent are in the West Midlands where 16 per cent admit they have had occasion to soften their Brummie tones.

But only two per cent of Scots admit they have ever reduced their regional accent for the sake of others, Trulawn’s figures added.

Good for the Scots. They have a wonderful accent anyway.

[Update: 5 April 2013]
Academics ‘dropping regional accents’ to fit in at elite universities

The Killer Angels

I’ll have to add The Killer Angels to my reading list. Here is Peter Hitchens’ review:

The Killer Angels:
I quickly learned, when I lived in the USA, that only two wars really counted in the American historical imagination – the Vietnam War and the Civil War.  The French expulsion of our German mercenaries, quaintly known as the War of Independence, has become a myth. The great conflicts which fascinate us, and fill our literature, are far less important. To my shame, I never made the time to make a proper study of the Civil War.
Years ago, hurrying for a train at Washington’s Union Station, and having nothing to read, I bought a book I’d vaguely heard of,  because of its connection with a film I had meant to see but hadn’t. the book was Michael Shaara’s ‘Killer Angels’ , the film ‘Gettysburg’ , is so long I still haven’t found time to see it. But I usually pack the book on any journey to the USA, in case I feel like re-reading it.  And, once again, thanks to the poor selection of in-flight films, I found myself doing so last week.

At the book’s opening, the reader is given a marvellous view of the war, as it were from the sky above it. The opposing armies, and the great differences between them,  are movingly and lyrically described,  in a way that explains the nature of the quarrel better than anything I have ever seen.  Shaara cleverly permits himself personal sympathy with the supporters of the Confederacy – a  cause he does not share.  He makes their motivation and undoubted bravery far easier to understand , as a result.
He  also notes, in a brief but surprisingly moving aside,  that the countryside in which the decisive struggle of the Civil War developed and resolved itself was (and is) extraordinarily lovely.  Why does this seem to matter so? In my experience wars are almost always fought over heartbreakingly beautiful landscapes, but there is something particularly idyllic about the America of the 1860s, modern yet still lost in a Sylvan peace that the Union victory would almost entirely end. Yiou can still find the ghost of it – particularly in Virginia, near Thomas Jefferson’s small but captivating house, Monticello. The eastward view in autumn, of wave after wave of wooded hills pouring towards the Atlantic, was called ‘My Sea View’ by Jefferson himself, and it is possible, while looking at it on a still afternoon, to think yourself in 18th century, when no man’s house was close enough for you to hear his dogs barking.

One of the joys of living in the Washington suburbs was being on the fringe of a far wilder, older America than the mess of malls, cineplexes, mass-produced housing and Beltways which choked the immediate capital area. You could easily escape to the Blue Ridge, that extraordinarily wistful and serene place, where you can still find unself-conscious flag-shaded small towns, white wooden houses amid trees, utterly American in the summer heat yet (beneath all the New World appearances) rather English too. But beyond all this lies the Shenandoah valley, as beautiful as its name, a dreamland of forest and slowly sliding river, the last intimate, small-scale piece of landscape before the country opens up into the great flatness of the Midwest, with the Mississippi beyond. .

The beauty of the Civil War battlefields is a very moving thing. Apart from a fleeting glimpse of Manassas/Bull Run (the South tends to call them by the names of the nearest town, the North by the name of the nearest watercourse, where there’s a choice) ,   I have only properly been to one, at Fredericksburg in Virginia, and it is shocking to see how small the scene is, where so much dreadful death was inflicted, so much courage shown. You can still sometimes find spent bullets, and very ugly things they are too. Once one of those had ripped through you, the butcher-surgeons of 1860 would not be able to do much , except more harm. It’s one of the great tragedies of modern times that people didn’t see, in the industrialised carnage of the 1860s, a warning of the war to come in 1914.  
It was behind the Blue Ridge, and in the Shenandoah valley,  that Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia moved northwards towards Gettysburg in the sweaty June days of 1863. Meanwhile, the Union Army of the Potomac was heading northwards on the far side of the Blue Ridge. Both were destined to meet at Gettysburg, where we all – sort of – know what happened.

What Shaara does, in his rather brief book, is to portray the most important figures in each army, generously and carefully, as they approach their rendezvous. He lets us know what they knew and understood, and what they didn’t know and couldn’t possibly have known.  He enters the minds of men of that age and time, not seeking to give the sensitivities and foreknowledge they could not possibly have, and trying as far as possible to sue the language they would have used. . He describes, with extraordinary power and economy, the effects on Lee of the heart disease that would eventually kill him, and which may well have affected his judgement and performance when battle came. I wonder if Shaara himself suffered from the same thing, since the description is so penetrating.
He inserts among them the rather comical figure of a British Guards officer (convinced that the Confederacy will win, and secretly appalled by the rough manners of the courtly Southerners – rough by Pall Mall standards, anyway  – they keep shaking hands, for goodness’ sake) , an enjoyable device for explain some things that might otherwise have been hard to get into the narrative. And there is a beautiful comment on the oddities of British manners from a gruff Confederate officer – ‘Talk like ladies – fight like wildcats’ – which contains a world of baffled incomprehension. Yet the British officer is overwhelmed to find that General Lee is more or less an English gentleman, right down to being an Anglican.
From the defence of Little Round Top to the useless, beautiful failure of Pickett’s Charge, he describes the decisive and often very moving events of this more or less wholly bungled battle in such a way that I felt I understood it properly for the first time. What amazed me was just how poor a job the legendary Lee actually made, how badly he was served by several of his generals and how he wrongly ignored James Longstreet,  who could have saved him from defeat, even if he couldn’t have turned it into a victory.

The emotions of battle, for some a heightened sense of being alive so joyous that they seek it again and again, for some an abrupt end, for some a welcome chance to pay a debt of honour through death, for some a storm of hopeless tears, are also well set down. And behind it all, he notes how in many cases those fighting had true friends fighting on the other side, whom they had to fight but hoped not to kill, and in many cases longed to meet again in friendship. Heaven spare any of us from another Civil War.

I would be proud if I could have written anything a quarter as good.  And I’m now determined to go to Gettysburg itself one day, and walk the haunted fields myself .  I foolishly dismissed it from my mind, when it was just a morning’s drive away, by persuading myself  that it would be a tourist trap – when in fact I know perfectly well that the USA’s National Parks are tastefully and intelligently preserved by people who care very much about their country.  There is always much to be learned in the places where history was made.

Sweet Home Mammoth?

While shuffling through my RSS favorites recently, I ran across a post positing a hypothetical reboot of the fifty states into areas with equal representation in the Electoral College. The article is here, but I want to pay particular attention to my locale, and why I like the imaginary boundary better than the real one.

© Neil Freeman
In this repartitioning of state lines, my area falls in a new state named “Mammoth”, taking its new name from the Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. Mammoth takes in Evansville, IN as its northernmost prominent city, Huntsville, AL, as its southernmost prominent city, and Nashville as its capital. It encompasses portions of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Mammoth bears some resemblance to the western third of the old Cherokee Nation, as displayed in C.C. Royce’s map from 1884.
Out of © – public domain

So what is better about these new borders? It aligns Huntsville and Nashville more naturally into the same state. The Tennessee River Valley in Alabama shares a closer affinity (in my lay opinion) to the Cumberland River Valley than it does with the rest of Alabama. Montgomery is too far away, both geographically and economically, from Huntsville.

Also, the Mammoth boundaries create a state with a strong defense industry nestled inside. Huntsville has Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center. Clarksville has Fort Campbell. Coinciding with this is a swath of excellent universities including the University of Alabama at HuntsvilleVanderbilt University, and the University of Southern Indiana, not to mention several smaller colleges in each of the cities.

One downside of Mammoth, however is that there are no Amtrak stations within its borders, but I suppose that only matters to the few odd folks such as myself who still enjoy travel by rail.

To a greater extent, my bias is based on a greater affinity I have for Nashville than I do for Birmingham or Montgomery. I’m a boring fuddy-duddy, but I do enjoy a nice stroll in downtown Nashville with all its venues, and the occasional “rasslin” event at the Bridgestone Arena. Given my Cherokee heritage, I’m not an Andrew Jackson fan by any means, but the Hermitage is an amazing house to visit as well. Closer to home, I especially enjoy the the Constitution Hall Village in downtown Huntsville or the Harmony Park Safari Drive-Thru Zoo. There’s also Old McDonald’s Petting Farm, which is a bit out of the way, but fun for small kids. To the north of Nashville there’s the National Corvette Museum and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

I’m not knocking any of the states that would be redefined. They each have their own wonderful histories, but borders are made to be redefined. If we’re evaluating hypotheticals, Mammoth seems to capture a regional culture pretty well.