Tuesday, August 04, 2009

See the U.S.A. in your Shiverlay

At age five I was singing, "Hell, hell, the gang's all here," when my mother gently corrected me. She told me that I had turned a long a sound into a short e. She corrected me often in my speech and set me off on the correct path, but she couldn't ever change my dad. Both Dad and Mom came from a rural area in the center of Utah and Mom did not want to talk like the "hicks," as she called them.

Dad had a pronounced Utah accent, where he turned long vowels into short. He also had a strange Utah way of turning an "or" sound into an "ar," examples being harse, sharts, and the one that tickled me, fartunate. I've heard some people with that speech habit turn the "ar" into "or" as in "I drove my cor." And speaking of cars, my dad also called a Chevrolet a Shiverlay.

Watching some local television commercials recently I heard a furniture store manager refer to his "knowledgable sellspeople," and a car dealer loudly exhorting us to get in and test drive a Shiverlay.

Many of my fellow Utahns communicate through Utahspeak, with expressions understood by locals but puzzling to outsiders. We in Utah know the exclamations, "Oh, my heck!" and "good hell." "Good hell" rather than "good heavens" because it's apparently disrespectful to use "heaven" in an oath. Local folks who use these terms often don't realize they are indigenous to our society.

Jeff Foxworthy made a living out of Southern dialects that sound funny to us non-Southerners, but only in Utah can you hear someone who mangles the word "ignorant" to sound like "ignernt" and means rude, "sluffing" to mean playing hookey, or "baby tending" when babysitting. It's too regionalized, unfartunately.

I realized at some point that Dad couldn't be corrected because he couldn't hear what he said. It sounded correct to his ear. He asked me once, "How do you pronounce s-h-o-r-t-s?"

I said, "Shorts."

He exclaimed, "I was talking to this New York guy and he was making fun of the way I said that word! But I say it just like you, sharts!"

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