My friend still speaks with a New Jersey accent—but it is now laced with a Texas twang. Although he spent his formative years on the East Coast, his move to Austin, Texas affected his speech.
A typical sentence from him sounds like this: “Ah was fixin’ to cawl youze, but, you know, Vinny and his wAHfe, you know, Mabel Sue, came to visit for a tAHme.”
Many people I know struggle with getting rid of their native accents and colloquialisms when faced with moving to a new place. Some are successful; others like my friend wind up speaking a whole different language.
When I lived in Texas and it was time for a performance review at my job, my supervisor asked me to step into his office and “pull the door to.” I stood there speechless trying to figure out what he meant. “Pull it to what?” I asked. More silence. What he meant was for me to close the door. Fortunately for me, he had a good sense of humor.
My own East Coast vernacular has softened and changed since I left New Jersey many years ago. A move to California followed by one to Florida, and then another to Texas before returning to California has altered my way of speaking. I suppose a good way to describe it now is that my speech is like the song “A Little Bit Country, A little Bit Rock and Roll.” New Jersey is still there, but surfer-speak sometimes sneaks in along with a few southern words or phrases. For instance I might say, “I thought y’all gave a good tawk, fer sher.”
Like my friend and I making hash out of different regional accents and phrases, my Italian family made minestrone out of the English language. In the Italian-American neighborhood of my childhood, we called a dish towel a mopeen, which is from the Sicilian and Calabrese dialects, mappina. I did not begin to call the thing a dish towel until recently.
And I’ll never forget the day I told one of my teachers that her class gave me agita (heartburn).
One bad habit I inherited from my father is making up my own words. He is a pro at that. Whenever he can not fully express himself in Italian or English, he makes up something. Give-a-shitty is an example of one of his adjectives that he uses to describe a job poorly done. “She turned in a real give-a-shitty report.” Billowfied is another one. This word expresses the demeanor of a person who uses flowery speech and gestures while attempting to explain his or her way out of a bad situation. “She got all billowfied once I told her about the give-a-shitty report not being accepted.”
The other day I caught myself telling a lamp shop owner that the shade she suggested for my lamp base was too doilyfied, meaning it resembled something that would interest my grandmother. She gave me a blank stare followed by a request to please explain the term so she could look for a more suitable shade.
I used to fret over my accent, regional slang and not understanding what people in other parts of the country were trying to say. But now I decided that as long as I do not do a give-a-shitty job and act all billowfied to defend myself if I do; then it is okay to call a dish towel a mopeen as I pull the door to.
In response to the weekly writing challenge: A Manner of Speaking