Godbey: Hearing is not the same as understanding

Published 5:27 pm Tuesday, March 12, 2024

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By Jack Godbey


I have always found the English language interesting. Amazingly, anyone can learn to speak the language with all the words that sound the same but have different meanings. For example, my wife told me not to be a bore. I didn’t know if I was boring or if she was insinuating I was a pig. She’d be right in either case, but still. If you say I have a bat in my house, I don’t know if I should play baseball or run screaming out the front door from a wild animal. If I were going to give you a gift right now, I could say that I would provide you with a present in the present. They are spelled the same, but all three have different meanings. Very confusing. No wonder I failed my fourth-grade spelling class. And to think, my teacher just said I was stupid.

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To make matters worse, each part of the country has made-up words that make sense to the locals but sound like the mumblings of Charlie Brown’s teacher to outsiders. For example, here in the South, we use the word file as “Fizme, I’d whip his hind end.” If you ask a Southerner who is coming to the cookout, they won’t say everyone. Instead, they might say, “Allem”.   If you ask how many cookies I want, I will say, “Allubm” instead of saying all of them. In like manner, if you ask me how many Oysters I want to eat, I’ll wrinkle my nose and tell you, “Numubm .” A young man asked me yesterday while at the gym if I could lift 300 pounds. I told him, “No, but I usetacud”. I went to get an oil change yesterday and told my wife that I was going to change my “Ole”. She said with her New York accent, “I don’t know what that is, but good luck with it”. 

 In the South, it’s not just words that we try to confuse the rest of the country with. No, there are also phrases that I’ve heard my whole life, such as, you may accuse me of “going on a wild goose chase,” but I can attest that I’ve never chased a goose in my life. I have had one or two chase me, but that’s another story. I hear people say to “Let the cat out of the bag.” Why is the cat in the bag to begin with. Let me put you in a bag and see how you like it. I remember when my mother would try to get me to clean my room; she would say to clean the whole “Kit and caboodle.”

My wife asked me how her hair looked. I told her it was a little cattywampus in the back. She just gave me that death stare while she tried to figure out what I was talking about. My father used to introduce himself as the “Chief cook and bottle washer.” As a child, I often wondered what he meant by that because I never saw him cook or wash any bottles. Who knows.

How many people from the country have eaten a good meal and then say that they are “Full as a tick”. Now, that’s pretty full. I love the look on my co-workers faces when they ask me if I’ll be at work on Monday and I say, “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”.

If you ask a country dad what he thinks of his daughter’s boyfriend, he may say, “He ain’t worth a hill of beans” or “He ain’t got a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of”. You’ll have to figure out what that means all on your own. 

 Country folks don’t get dressed up for church; they get “Gussied up”. I could go on with more strange country words and phrases, “Till the cows come home,” but I’m, “Worn slap out.”