I‘VE always been concerned about the loss of traditional cultures—Tibetan, Native American, Creole, etc.—due to modernization and globalization. Perhaps this is just naïve romanticism on my part, but I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that there’s something of inherent value and wisdom in the way things have been done for so long. My friend Andrew summed up this feeling best one day when we were talking about sweat lodges: “It’s best to stick with the old ways.”
It took leaving Georgia long-term for the first time in my life to realize how little I have lived up to that ideal. I was discussing American Buddhism with James—a classmate and coreligionist—one day, and he said something I’d never heard before. When many Westerners convert to Buddhism, they also adopt certain aspects of the relevant Asian culture that have absolutely no relation to dharma. In Tibetan Buddhist circles, this often manifests in women wearing chupas and men wearing brocade silk shirts with Nehru collars. James’ point was that this sort of behavior is based on the false idea that being a Euro-American is a blank cultural slate to be filled by things (e.g., Nehru collars) from others’ cultures. To James’ mind—and I agree with him here, up until a point—there’s a backhanded racism to it all.
What struck me is that being a Southerner means that I come from a traditional culture, in the exact same way as my Tibetan friends who send their children to Tibetan language and culture school every Saturday; and I had utterly failed at preserving it. Worse, I took pride in my un-Southerness, my distance from my mom’s accent and my grandfather’s diet. I lamented the loss of others’ traditional ways of life, while relishing in murdering my own.
• • •
I can’t tell you how it happened or who taught it to me, but I do know that I grew up with a vague sense that speaking like my grandmother was ignorant, and that eating like my great-grandmother was unhealthy. When people found out where I was from, they’d always act surprised and say, “You don’t sound like you’re from the South,” and my chest would always poke out a little. What I didn’t understand then, and what most of the rest of the country doesn’t understand now, is that the South is a traditional culture like any other. Parts of it are beautiful, dignified, and well worth preserving; others are unspeakably barbaric. Has life anywhere ever been different?
One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that in the South we don’t just say things with a different accent, we often say different things all together. Some of the words we use are artifacts of British English or antiquated American terms. Others, I imagine, or just idioms. What follows is a sort of standard American English – Southern English glossary, specific to the Northeast Georgia Piedmont where I grew up:
- wallet – billfold
- car trunk – boot
- refrigerator – Frigidaire
- push (as in, “push the button”) – mash
- underwear – drawers
- pants – britches
- cuss out – bless out
- country (as in, “are you ready for the country”) – sticks
- yell – holler
- skunk – polecat
- pastor – minister/preacher
Expect more in the future.
Note: This post was originally posted by Joshua Eaton as “Southern Culture” at Angelheaded Hipster on 9 September 2008
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