Southern Speak

I believe my mom was given a book (by my uncle, perhaps?) called How to Speak Southern. Even though she was a southerner who needed no further education on the language it made a great gag gift. As a youngster who loved a good laugh I gladly thumbed through it from time to time, chuckling along the way. Over the years I’ve forgotten just about everything I read in that little book, but I have learned some interesting facts about southern speak since moving south seven years ago. Therefore, I’d like to make a clarification to y’all yankees.

I, like so many born-and-bred northerners, was under the misconception that southerners called all animals critters. This, however, is not the case. There are distinctions about which animals can be called critters. Before I explain the distinction I must clarify that farm animals are called by their name, albeit pronounced differently (horse=hoss, and so on).

You see, commonly domesticated animals (cats and dogs) and the classically cute woodland animals (squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits) are typically referred to as critters. The rest is varmints! Possum, skunks, snakes, groundhogs, etc. Dems is varmints! Varmints are trouble-makers. Even cute ones can be varmints, such as rabbits that dig up your garden; they may be cute but they’ve crossed the fine line separating wild critters from varmints.

Even your family pet is not immune to reclassification. Let’s say they’ve piddled on the carpet one too many times, or clawed grandma’s antique wedding dress; then your critter becomes a varmint! But, fortunately for little Sparky or Mittens, this is merely a temporary reclassification. You love your pet, and therefore your pet will be a critter again! You may even jokingly say, “Git over here you little varmint!” That is just a sign that all is forgiven, and your critter is a varmint no more.

So, remember yanks, you don’t have southern speak truly figured out until you’ve experienced it for some years. Not everything is a critter, there is a distinct difference between critters and varmints. Cats, dogs and the like fall well within the parameters of critterdom. All those nasty animals outside, dems is varmints.

Hmmm, maybe that’s why southern states vote Republican; because Dems is varmints. Aw, heck, all politicians are beyond varmints!


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