Manipulating the Language:
Stories from the South

In the South, we Southerners have owned the English language for dozens and dozens of generations; and therefore, we know how to manipulate it to entertain ourselves. Our tales and stories not only reveal a sense of ourselves, we also create a sense of our on-going, ever-emerging selves.

Contrast, if you will, a Southerner's creative use of language with the halting language of a newly arrived citizen from another country who struggles with English. The new arrival's attempts to speak will be largely for basic information like a place to sleep or food to eat.

"Water . . . drink, pour favor," you might hear.

But long-time users of English know how to make the language playful with implication, sudden turns, calamity, and nonsense; and many times in the process of telling stories, the raconteur will reveal his folkways and culture. Here are several narratives that show the delicious entertaining flavor of language in the South.

A red-necked farmer who regularly spits chewing tobacco on the floor of his truck was pulled over by a state highway patrolman. He was not a well-kept farmer, you understand.

"Ur-r-r-r-r-r-R-R-r-r-r," the siren blew as the farmer rolled his truck to the side of the road.

"Clomp, clomp, clomp," the boots of the spiffy-looking patrolman sounded as he walked up to the driver's side of the truck.

"Let your window down," the patrolman directed as he knocked his knuckles on the truck window.

The farmer let down his window, and a bunch of flies flew out of the truck. They swarmed around the patrolman's head. He began to swat at them.

"What's all these bugs?" he demanded as he continued to slap and fan at them.

"They's wing-a-dingers," the farmer replied, "but some folks call 'em whinky dinkies. They usually swarm around a horse's ass."

"Are you calling me a horse's ass?" the patrolman huffed belligerently.

"Uh, uh, not me," answered the farmer. "But you can't usually fool a winging dinging whinky-dinker."

* * *

Here is another tale that hangs its humor on implication:

"How doeth you keep your woman in line?" a newly wedded man of the 19th century asked another man.

"You lift her skirt to expose her ankles and layeth a switch to them," the long-married man instructed.

Months passed and the long-married man saw the younger man again.

"Well, did striping her ankles bring her into line?" the older, more experienced man asked.

"Don't know," the younger man answered. "I pulled up her skirt and altogether forgoteth her punishment!"

* * *

Here is a third tale that uses implication to create humor:

One day a farmer and his son found some newly born puppies at the barn.

"Before you give them away, you have to give these puppies a denomination," the father told his son.

That afternoon a sign in boyish print read, "Free Baptist puppies."

But the next week the sign by the road had changed to "Free Methodist puppies."

A curious neighbor dropped by to see why the sign had been changed.

"What happened?" the neighbor asked the farmer's son. "Last week you advertised Baptist puppies, and now I notice your sign reads Methodist puppies."

"Now, their eyes are open," the son replied.

* * *

Another tale depends not on implication but on a sudden turn for its humor. Many times calamity is the reason we laugh:

Two old men decided to become farmers after they retired from the business world. They bought some adjoining farm land out in the country; and one day while they were traveling to their new rural homes on a bumpy dirt road, they saw a sign "Mule For Sale."

"Hey, that's what we need to really be farmers," one of the new farmers said to his citified buddy.

They stopped at the place where the mule was advertised.

"We want to buy a mule," they explained to the seller.

"Well, I'm out of mules right now, but I've got some mule seed," the man told the would-be farmers.

He guided them around to the back of the house and showed them some pumpkins.

"These here's mule seed," he explained pointing to the bright orange pumpkins.

The two new farmers picked out a big pumpkin and loaded it on their pickup truck, but the bumps in the corduroy dirt road caused the pumpkin to bounce off the truck and burst open. A rabbit ran by just as the pumpkin splattered open.

"There goes our mule," one would-be farmer hollered to his farmer buddy.

The two of them took out after the rabbit that was running lickety-split through the woods. They couldn't catch it, no way they tried.

"It's all right," one out-of-breath farmer finally said to the other. "I don't believe I want to plow that fast anyway."

* * *

The next tale reveals us Southerners. What is delightful about it is this: Race relations are improving in the South, and the butt of the narrative is the White kid, not the usual Black kid:

An English teacher stood before his third grade class.

"Now, children," he told them, "if you say a famous quotation and identify it, you can take Friday as a holiday. You can take the day off. You won't have to come to school."

"I have a dream," a little Black child recited, "that one day all God's chillun will be treated equal . . . Martin Luther King, 1962."

"Ex-x-x-x-x-cellent," the teacher complimented the child. "Take a holiday Friday. You won't have to come to school."

"Oh no," the student smiled, "I'll be here. The lunchroom serves fish on Friday, and I likes to eat fish."

"Anybody else have a quotation?" the teacher asked.

"Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country . . . John F. Kennedy, 1961," a second Black child recited.

"Ex-x-x-x-x-cellent," the teacher declared. "You can take Friday off. You won't have to attend class that day."

"No ma'am," the second child said. "My education is important to me, and I wants an education."

"Anybody else?" the teacher prompted.

"Now, ain't that just like Black folks!" a little son-of-a-redneck hollered from the back of the room.

"Ex-x-x-x-cellent," the teacher exclaimed. "Whose quotation is it?"

The little redneck stammered momentarily but recognized his advantage.

"George Wallace, 1963," he smiled, "and I'll see y'all Monday."

* * *

Here is another short joke that depends on playful nonsense:

A man stood alone away from the crowd. All of a sudden, he started laughing. A bystander asked him what was so funny.

"I just told myself a joke that I've never heard before," the laugher explained.

* * *

And here is a final story that depends on unexpected irreverence:

A little pre-school girl was twirling around and around in her primary Sunday School class. She twirled around so fast that her skirt stood straight out.

"Sit down, darling," her Sunday School teacher told her. "Don't be twirling around."

She continued to twirl, making her skirt lift so that her ruffled underwear showed.

"Now, sweetheart, you must sit down," her Sunday School teacher admonished her again.

The little girl continued to twirl.

"Look, dear, you must stop twirling," the Sunday School teacher repeated.

"It's my church, my skirt," the little girl sang out sweetly, "and I ain't sitting down until God tells me to."