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March 25, 2014

Points East: Excuse my language

LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — I’ve had numerous emails from folks complaining that “We don’t talk like that” in reference to some quotes I attributed to my old pal, the late Truman Caudill.  I’ve been accused of making fun of the way we hillbillies use the language. Of course a lot of readers are going to be offended that I call us natives of eastern Kentucky hillbillies.

Somebody in Richmond or London is saying to themselves right now, “Yep, we moved all the way down here from Letcher County cause we was tired of being hillbillies.” 

The fact of the matter is that our grammar and English teachers did a great job of teaching us how to write the language, but many of us persisted on butchering the way we speak it in casual conversation. 

For example, we will nearly always write “I wasn’t there.”

In conversation we’re more apt to say, “I wouldn’t nowhere close to the place,” or, “I weren’t even around then.”

We may correctly write “I knew better.”

In conversation we’re apt to say, “I knowed he was lying all the time.” Or “I knowed that snake was going to bite him soon as he picked it up.” 

We know to write “I’ve never been there.”  In conversation we’re apt to say, “I ain’t never been up there,” or “down there,” as the case may be. Any place except where we’re standing right now is either up, down or over from us.

We know to properly write “I’m not anything like that.”  We’re more apt to say, “I ain’t nothing like Truman, cause he ain’t nothing but trouble.”

Even though the word “ain’t” isn’t in the dictionary, it’s probably the most used contraction in our use of the language and I frequently use it in this column because my favorite English teacher, the late Mary Ann Adams, now reads it in Heaven and she ain’t been correcting me very much lately.  Even though it ain’t in the dictionary, it ought to be. 

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Now that school is out, what are your family’s summer vacation plans?

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