Last spring, I drove my 83-year-old Mama and her 83-old-friend Jean Thrower to the funeral home for Mary Boyle Limehouse’s visitation. Afterwards, I took them out to eat, and for some reason, they were talking about all the new cars on the road and how the auto industry must be booming. Perhaps this is something you notice in a small town like Summerville, South Carolina, because I hadn’t noticed that Charleston’s roads were suddenly teeming with the latest models. Anyway, during this conversation, Jean uttered a word I hadn’t heard in decades – swanny. “I swanny,” she said, “I’ve never seen so many new ca-ahs,” i.e., cars.
Right then and there, I promised myself I was going to video her and Mama’s having a conversation about their childhoods so I could possess an auditory keepsake of their disappearing accents and locutions, and Mama convinced Jean to agree, but I never got around to it, and, of course, now it’s too late, because Mama’s on her deathbed, though Jean is still hale and hardy.
Yesterday, I heard another word you don’t hear much any more – commotion – as in “She doesn’t need all this commotion; what she needs is peace and quiet,” so I’ve decided to start a list of old Lowcountry Southernisms and provide a definition and a sentence that shows the words in context. Of course, because I’m lazy, I’m going about it in piecemeal fashion, adding them when I hear them, but here’s a start.
South Carolina Lowcountry Locutions
Bo-Gator – n., (pronounced bo-gatah) a male, often a term of affectionate greeting. You still hear people round here call males bo, but now, it’s more often bro, which flies in the face of most linguistic evolutions because the trend is usually towards simplification. My pal Steve Smoak, the bartender at Rue de Jean, still says, bo, but I haven’t heard anyone say bo gator since high school.
Commotion, n. irritating noise and activity. This word I doubt is a Southernism, but I don’t remember hearing a person “from off” using it, nor do I nowadays hear anyone using commotion all that often, which is too bad because it sounds like what it is.
Dah, n. African American nanny. Why so many people in Charleston developed a geechee brogue and why it’s dying out. When I first started teaching, some of my students fathers’ had the Charleston brogue, but their sons didn’t. Now you only hear the brogue in people over 65. “Doughnt-cha keep dat gay-ate open, fool.”
Near about (pronounced neahaboot), adv., almost or nearly as in “I neahraboot broke my back falling off that ladder.”
Reckon, v., suppose. I reckon he got what was coming to him.
Right, adv., somewhat to considerably. It’s right warm today.
Swanny – v., to declare, to aver. I swanny I never seen nothing like it.
Whatchasay, v., a expression of greeting, the elision of what-do-you-say, as in que pasa, what’s happening, etc. Often this greeting was followed by bo and was rendered whatchasaybo. When my friend, Tim Miskell moved to Summerville from Croton-on-the-Hudson, he literally had no idea what people were saying. He said whatchasaybo sounded African to him, which, of course, it does. Like I said, some of us learned to talk from our dahs, though, I never had one, nor do I speak with the Charleston brogue.
Yonder, adv – in that direction.
Let’s see if I can come up with one sentence that incorporates all of the above.
Whatchasaybo? You hear that commotion last night over yonder at the Snopeses? I swanny it was loud enough to wake my dead dah. I reckoned I better go over and tell them I was about to sick the police on their rude asses. Judy was right exhausted after her chemo; plus, we need to nip this uncivilized shit in the bud. So I pull on my pants, in which I neahaboot shat, because before I got within twenty feet of their yard, one of the revelers started discharging into the air what looked like an AK-47. Who knows, maybe they were celebrating an Afghan wedding or something. Anyway, catch you later, bo gator. I’m headed down to Center Street to file me a complaint.