Thursday, May 15, 2008

Diction

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...
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"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.
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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.
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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.
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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.)
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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.
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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,)