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 paragraph that incorporates all of the above.
Whatchasaybo? You hear that commotion last night over yonder at the short term rental on Huron? It was nearabout two AM, and I swanny it was loud enough to wake my dead dah. I reckoned I better go over and tell them I was about to sic the police on ’em. Judy was right exhausted after her chemo; plus, we need to nip this shenanigans in the bud. So I pull on my pants and headed out the door. Before I got within twenty feet of their yard, one of the partiers started discharging what looked like an AK-47 into the air. 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.
12 thoughts on “Endangered Lowcountry SC Locutions”
Shocking news: the South doesn’t end at the Georgia border. Old ladies from my Arkansas youth always said “I Swanny” or the shortened version “I Swan”. Also, I, not being from these parts, felt very natural in describing the neighborhood new years event to the police as a commotion. Who’d uh thunk it?
Yeah, I ain’t surprised “swanny” ain’t exclusive to Lowcountry SC because Van Morrison uses it in one of his songs, but I can’t remember which song. I can’t remember lots of things. Tried to google it but to no avail.
Twain made millions and established an international reputation employing American colloquialisms that captured a sense of realism in place and language. I again urge you to write the contemporary account of Lowcountry life. Your sense of “sitz in Leben” (I think) creates an interest in an avid audience just awaiting your talent.
You’re too kind, Richie. Let’s get together.
Commotion means drama according to my 83 year old Mama.
Exactly, Laurie. Some fuss that doesn’t need to be happening.
Brother, Wesley. You gone an struk da cord in mu heart. Soon I will share a few phrases from my Dah, Nancy C. You know who she be. Seriously though read William Gilmore Simms for a true flavor of a time gone by.
Arthur (AK Gene)
I can see her now, Arthur, with her corncob pipe. You’re one of the last with what I call the Charleston brogue.
I love this idea!
Acting / being “Ugly” is one expression I use often, but some folks, mostly Yankees, who don’t understand the term, take offense to it. I, being a proper Southern ladyl, usually explain as not to be disrespectful.
Have you read any of Dorothea Benton Frank’s boosk? She is a native of Sullivans Island. “The Christmas Pearl” is a wonderful read & example of Gullah, Geechee & Charlestonese… She includes recipes as an added bonus!
I would like to edit my previous comment. I couldn’t scroll completely to proofread. I have a couple of typeO’s to correct. Thank you
Thanks, Ms Weese for the comments and the Benton suggestion. Don’t worry about the typos. My posts are riddled with them 🙂
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