I’ve lived in Eastern North Carolina for more than 13 years. In case you don’t; the difference between a Yankee and a Damn Yankee is a Damn Yankee never leaves. So I think after 13 years, it’s a safe bet I’m a Damn Yankee.
I no longer feel like a foreigner; just merely tolerated. The difference between being tolerated and being a foreigner is understanding the language. So if you are a newly transplanted non-southerner, I’m giving away the keys to the kingdom on understanding the southern vernacular east of I-95 in North Carolina. I don’t pretend to know how they say things in Louisiana or Alabama, I just know how they say things here. So if you want to get by and, maybe…blend in, I’m giving you the secrets after 13 years of intense study (OK, not intense, more like hit over the head with it).
Here you go:
1. Mash the button. Translation: “Press the elevator button.” But here we “mash” the button. We mash potatoes as well. Technically, to mash means to crush something into a uniform paste but that is not what you do with the elevator button. So if someone asks you to “mash the button” don’t bring a hammer.
2. Looking you. Translation: “John is looking for you.” It can also be used as in “You looking me?” which means “Are you looking for me?” I have to admit I actually have used this and when I do, I feel like someone is going to call me out and say, “Hey, you’re a damn Yankee, you can’t say that.”
3. Fixing to. Translation: “I’m intending to…” I can remember when a friend of mine who grew up on Long Island moved to Nashville and we were talking on the phone (before I transplanted to the South). He said, “I’m fixing to mow the lawn.” I said “Fixing?!? What has happened to you Dave?” Another Yankee lost.
4. Carry to the store. Translation: “I’m driving Suzie to store.” The first time I heard a co-worker say, “I had to carry Johnnie to the doctor,” I thought they physically had to pick up and carry their child to the doctor. Piggy back style. Say what?
5. Cut the lights. Translation: “Turn off the lights.” So don’t go run and get scissors to cut the light bulbs. I’m so used to this that I forgot that it didn’t make sense.
6. Ma’am. Translation: “Miss, I didn’t understand what you said, can you please repeat the question?” This confounded me for months! I was not but a little put off by being called “Ma’am” instead of the age reducing “Miss” which I was quite fond of in Northern California. I would say something like, “Do you have any arugula?” to the produce clerk and they would blankly look at me and say “Ma’am?” I’d think “Ma’am, what?” This happened to me countless times on the phone after I would ask a question. I agree that it is a judicious use of words but I was lost. If you are a man, just replace “Sir” for “Ma’am” and it works the same way.
7. Miss Cathy. Translation: “You could probably be a grandmother so, therefore, must be respected.” I don’t know anyone over 65 that is not referred to as “Mr. John” or “Miss Ann.” It’s a sign of respect. I think it’s ironic that you finally get called “Miss” when you are older. I remember my son at age 8 calling our neighbor “Fred” instead of “Mr. Fred.” Mr. Fred set him straight.
8. High dollar. Translation: “Expensive.” This gets used like “We all can’t live in your high dollar neighborhood.” It’s sometimes called “Tall dollar.” It’s a backhanded compliment on where you live.
9. Mee Maw. Translation: “Grandmother”. I’m not sure what it’s derived from but it rhymes with “Hee Haw”.
10. Hey big man. Let me hold a dollar. Translation: “Let me have a dollar.” This comes from a radio show called “John boy and Billy.” This threw me off repeatedly. I’m thinking, “Why do you just want to hold the dollar?”
11. Awl. Translation: “Oil.” I can imagine this would be a greater problem for me if I worked in an auto shop or fast food restaurant. It will absolutely snag you as a Yankee if you ask for “oil and vinegar” on your salad.
12. Pocketbook Translation: “purse.” While most Southern terms seem to be judicious with syllables if not word (see item #6 and #7) , this is the opposite. My purse does not reside in my pocket nor is it a book.
13. Might could. Translation: “Maybe we could.” This is politely leaving your options open. So if someone says, “Let’s go into shark infested waters,” you can respond with “might could.” It leaves your options open which is a good idea with the current state of shark attacks in North Carolina.
14. Bless his heart. Translation: “someone is about to roll a bus over the person whose heart they are blessing.” Like, “He thinks everyone likes him, bless his heart,” or “She’s tried to lose weight for years, bless her heart.” I will admit if someone is hospitalized or just lost their grandmother “bless his heart” will be used but 95% of the time, they are rolling the bus over whoever they are blessing.
So there you have it. You now can survive a trip to Emerald Isle, North Carolina for your summer vacation. I can assure you that if you are vacationing in Emerald Isle, you are surrounded by folks from Eastern Carolina. Y’all fixin’ to carry your mee-maw and her pocket book down east? Might could.