By Ike Adams
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.
The same thing goes for “holler.” I’d be willing to bet that nobody on Blair Branch has ever uttered,”I think I’ll go of the hollow and run out to Isom,” but they go out of the holler every day. At least I did.
I swear, I did not mean to be offensive, nor do I believe that most outsiders who write about us mean to be poking fun. They simply get it wrong and we need to learn to excuse them for their ignorance.
Yes, it insults me too when an outsider writes about us and tries to mimic our language. I have never ever heard a hillbilly say, “thar.”
And now that I’ve reread last week’s column, it does come off as being a bit condescending, yankeefied and holier than thou. I suppose that, for some reason, I thought I was entitled to try and write in the dialect but, upon further review, I now realize that I blew it too.
Just because we frequently misuse or mispronounce the language don’t give me or nobody else the right to make fun of it.
Or as a friend from Seymour, Ind., recently said to me, ”And youse goiys thank we talk funny.”
I found it interesting that both of us “thank” instead of think.