Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten
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Gene Weingarten: The trial

Last week, I spent two months in North Carolina. I was in a courtroom, listening to the testimony of locals. Locals speak slowly.

I know North Carolina is not the Deep South, and yet somehow its cadences are slower than in places such as Mississippi, where the syrup is thicker but seems to squeeze out more rapidly, like a blaat from a ketchup dispenser. In North Carolina, words and phrases ooze, like sap. The pace of discourse is glacial. The word “you” is two and a half syllables, pronounced “eee-uuuwww.”

Gene Weingarten

Gene Weingarten’s humor column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in The Washington Post Magazine since July 2000. He also hosts a monthly humor chat. As a feature writer, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in both 2008 and 2010. Since 2010, he has co-authored the syndicated comic strip “Barney and Clyde.”

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This was all particularly frustrating to me, as I am a naturally impatient person who also happened to be running up a $120-a-night hotel bill, extended over as many days as this hearing would last. So imagine the content of my thought balloons out there in the spectator section when one particular witness — a lawyer who was being evasive — was answering a question about whether he had known, at a certain point in the past, that a client of his had testified in front of a jury.

Witness: “WAY-ul, ahh CAY-unnt TAY-us-ti-faah to eee-uuuwww thay-ut ahh KNEE-euww thay-ut she HAY-ud TAY-us-ti-faaahd ….

Me: Please stop.

Witness: ... but ahh be-LAY-uv ahh be-CAY-um a-WAY-uhr of thay-ut ...

Me: Please spontaneously combust.

Witness: ... ay-ut some TIE-um SUB-se-quay-unt to the TIE-um thay-ut ...

Me: I am prepared to pay $5,000 for a blowgun and curare-tipped dart.

As a city dweller, I sometimes have to fight an unattractive and unjustified personal bias against hayseeds, yokels, bumpkins, Jethros and clodhoppers. It is not always easy, because compelling facts keep popping up to feed my cynicism. For example, driving to the court hearing through rural Virginia, I noticed a sign for “Powhite Parkway,” a thoroughfare that leads toward “Lynchburg.” There is also a “Pohick Bay Park.” I am just saying.

(There is also a sign proclaiming “Mount Olive — the Pickle Capital of the World,” which seems very, very wrong to me, as though Little Rock were the Paper and Scissors Capital of the World.)

After a while, though, sitting in court, as vowels trickled and suppurated and slowly phlebotomized into the room, it occurred to me I was thinking about this all wrong. I wasn’t thinking creatively.

Judiciously applied, the North Carolina drawl could be a force for good. If all OB/GYNs were North Carolinians, for example, the entire abortion issue would disappear, in an apolitical fashion, without infringing on anyone’s rights. By the time the doctor has explained to the pregnant woman her various options, the baby will be 2 months old.

If everyone spoke North Carolinian, we’d be spared all those annoying commercials for pharmaceutical products, because they’d become prohibitively expensive: The legally necessary recitation of the side effects at the end, drawled out, would require an hour of airtime. Plus, speed could no longer be used to obfuscate; slowly articulated with syllabic precision, they’d be unbelievably revolting. ( “... FAH-ur-hose dah-uh-REE-uhh ...”)

And finally, the North Carolina model could put an end to drunken bar fights.

New Yorker: You lookin’ at me? YOU LOOKIN’ AT ME?

North Carolinian: WAY-ul, ahh maahhht hay-uv HAY-up-end to hay-uv BEE-un GLAY-un-cin’ TOE-wahd yo-wah pah-TICK-you-lahh ...

New Yorker: Never mind, I gotta go home.

E-mail Gene at weingarten@washpost.com.Find chats and updates at washingtonpost.com/magazine.

 
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