Thursday, May 15, 2008


Even if you do learn to speak correct English, whom are you going to speak it to?
Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)

"Oh! I see your fuh-prin," said a voice behind me.

I turned around in the doorway of my daughters' school, my 2 year old teetering on my hip as she reached her stubby fingers toward the button she'd just pressed that open the heavy doors of the building. A tall, blond lady pushed the door open, next to the one that had magically opened for my daughter and me.

"Your caw-ben fuh-prin. You just used electricity that you didn't need to use, and now you have left a caw-ben fuh-prin. I don't understand why parents teach their kids to upset the planet in that way."

Oh. Carbon Footprint. I was so intrigued by her accent that I forgot to be offended by the pretentious dangling of her dogma all over me. More power to you, Dogma Lady.** Fight the good fight. Save the planet one overindulgent toddler at a time. (Let's not even discuss the number of soiled diapers the child has contributed to the landfill!)

I was still replaying her Bostonian-toned ecological admonition in my head as The Babe and I made our way through the automatic doors at Target. Crap. Another fuh-prin.

I know. I know. For shame. You have me thinking, Dogma Lady...
"I gaw a boo-boo on-a my finner." The Babe crooned from the cart. She crinkled her brow and added, "Awwwh," for dramatic effect.
A seven year old, brown eyed girl was talking to her mother in pristine English, as she twirled her chestnut hair pulled into tight, shiny plaits . There was no suggestion of her Latin descent, until their conversation turned to school, Cesar Chavez Academy. Suddenly, her R's began to roll and vowels stood up and stretched, as her heritage tumbled over her tongue and past me on her way down the produce aisle. Her dialog was poetry. She and I realized I was smiling at her at the same moment, and I turned my attention to the ample Pink Ladies.
On my way through the parking lot to put my cart away, my cell phone rang. It was my good friend from the East Coast who extoles the virtues of Mom and Pop Pizzerias in Connecticut with their "Manicot" (which I have always pronounced Manicotee,) and all things "Bawston" including "The Sox" and her "Pats." I am fascinated by the way her "are's" turn to "ah's" when she becomes particularly engrossed in a story from her days at Bentley. Her 7 year old, who has lived in Colorado all her life, has a striking East Coast accent that causes my ears to perk and the corners of my lips to turn upward every time she speaks.
On the drive home, I remembered a good friend's ex wife who hails from "Minnesoooooda" and once advised me at the grocery store to get my "baggles in a baig." (That's bagels in a bag, to anyone south of Fargo.)
Which led me to remember a conversation with my cousin who has lived in Texas all her life. She had given me directions to her house which I parroted to my husband as he drove. "Turn left into The Hollands neighborhood at the stop light." There was no Hollands neighborhood. And before that cold panic of feeling lost in an unfamiliar city set in, I looked up to see The Highlands emblazoned across a brick wall.
And then I remembered my Aunt who has possibly only ever left Oklahoma in order to visit family in Arkansas, and how, as children, we would giggle when she told us to "Warsh" our hands for dinner.

I wonder if birds, as they migrate from one hemisphere to another, listen to our dialects the way we listen to their morning song.

(**not at all affiliated with this dogma lady,)


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the disclaimer! Because I leave big ol' caw-ben fuh-prins all over the place. And methane ones, too.

And what a snotty bitch that lady is/was. Passively aggressively ruin the fun of a child? Yeesh. Some people are so high on themselves.

I'm originally from Newfoundland -- Canadian province that is more Irish than Ireland -- and still have traces of my homophone accent (meaning that I slur all my middle consonants and talk with very wide open vowels) that confound my husband. Example: I say beer, bare and bear all the same.

Julie Pippert said...

Oooh lovely reflections.

I think the largest benefit of having a mish mash of the best of a variety of accents, although largely Generic US Big City, is that nobody has ever say, "What?" to me because they couldn't understand me.

The downside is that I *have* said that to people for that reason. Namely in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and when I first moved to Houston.

But I never have told someone they left a carbon footprint because they let a kid push an elevator button. Good grief. Of ALL the things...

Anonymous said...

In NC, people used to ask me for a "pin," and it always took a moment to realize they wanted a writing instrument.

flutter said...

my dainty little cabuh fuhprins have nothing on my methane fuhprins.

Adogma and I are total soul sisters.

laura said...

Tee hee, amusing post! Thanks for dropping by Dolce Pics and for your comment. It's so nice to meet new people in the community!

the dragonfly said...

One of the interesting things about being in the military is the people we live with are from all over the country. The accents are quite lovely, actually. :)

Magpie said...

Do you think those birds have a different accent in different places?

painted maypole said...

i've never thought of electic doors as leaving a carbon footprint. interesting.

and the bird idea. very interesting.

(and if you ever consider cloth diapers, I'll be happy to regale you with why we loved them)

Furrow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Furrow said...

As a matter of fact, birds do sing in different dialects.

Emily said...

Oh my! How interesting! Thanks, Furrow! And this article was just posted this morning in The New York Times.
Do click on it, if you have a second.

Mrs.Connie K said...

As a NYer living friends from AK my accent is definitely different. I wear sneakers, drink pop, go to the Target, and take the I-90 into downtown!
Thanks for the interesting post and the nice comment!

Lori said...

This was great! You did such a great job of capturing the different accents (not easy to do in the written word).

Of course I am convinced that those of us here in the Pacific Northwest are the only ones without a distinct accent. :) However, I'm sure I am wrong.

NotSoSage said...


And apparently my mother is a long lost Minnesooooooodaan. We've always marveled at her strange pronunciation of bagels as "baggles" and bag as "baig". I wonder where she picked it up.

kim the midwife said...

You really had me smiling. I'm a "Bawl-mor-an," and my husband is from Brazil. So we get LOTS of funny mouth music.

And the uppity environmentalist? She needs to find another pulpit (this opinion comes from a biodiesel and Prius driving, composting, cloth diapering, mamma who actually purchases caw-ben offsets). I know: yikes.

Shelli said...

Emily - Thanks so much for visiting my photo page the other day, and I am happy to find your blog. This is a great post. You're a great writer and "observer." I love listening to accents. But I am a little stunned about the remark of the carbon footprint to a woman with a toddler!

You mentioned how my yard was lush & green. You know, I used to live in CO, and I lived in NV for 12 years! So I never take the greenery here for granted!

Mighty Morphin' Mama said...

Oh, I adore this post! I love listening to and watching people, and I often catch myself smiling at small children, couples or an elderly person on the street. Immersed in my observations and forgetting that I am staring at real people who can actually see me...
Your writing is beautiful, I am so glad I stumbled upon your site.

shay said...

I followed you over here from LoriD and am so glad!

I was just as mystified by the "dogma Lady's" words. What did she mean?! Thanks for the help lol.

I had a room mate from New Zealand who spoke pretty clearly (in my mind anyway) but when we were both in the US (I'm Canadian) I'd have to make phone calls for her cuz the Americans just could not make her accent out lol. Maybe it helps to have visual cues?

Christine said...

i can't believe that woman had such bitchy balls to say that to you!!!