Do you: pick up supplies at the wirehouse, all a squeaky hinge and drop your g's when it comes time fer kissin'?
Did you: evuh visit New Yoke 'n' ast fuh room in a HO-tel? Prob'ly wound up sleepin' on the far escape, if you wuz lucky.
Do you: say they laughed when you pitched that deal in Detroit?
Well, you kin waller in self pity, or sashay up for some right controversial tongue adjustment, touted here in Choo-Choo City by a Yankee lady who promises to cure drawlers of a grave affliction, The Southern Accent, through her speech course, private tutoring and sef-hep tapes.
"People should be able to choose the way they sound, just as they choose the way they dress," says Beverly Inman-Ebel, the speech pathologist from Ohio who has reignited the Civil War hereabouts.
Just how hard is it to lose a southern accent?
"Harder than learning a foreign language," she says. "Speech is a habit, so you have to unlearn. But with guidance and motivation, people can accomplish anything they want."
Titled "Success Without the Southern Accent," her fall course at Chattanooga State Technical Community College drew about 16 locals -- housewives, insurance sales reps, secretaries, a businessman or two -- who paid $95 apiece for help in untwisting their native tongues.
One burly computer company rep said he feared drawl discrimination as he climbed the corporate ladder. A preacher's wife, Sandi Bryan, mother of three, was fed up with friends "makin' fun of me." Others confessed to nasal twangs, droppin' g's, saying " 'tuh' fer two, and prolonging vowels into diphthongs (one sound slurred into two, as in "cay-unt" for "can't"), as is the custom down South.
One businessman counted lost sales every time he pitched clients beyond the Mason-Dixon line. He wanted to be taken seriously. "Ah can't communicate with people without them saying, 'Your accent is cute,' or 'Oh, he's a southern boy, must be a Beverly Hillbilly,' " said Jerry Thurston, 38. "The only thing that concerns me is that we could be tried for treason."
Indeed, Jerry didn't fall off a turnip truck yesterday. And it seems that not since Sherman camped amid these gently rolling hills before marching on to torch Atlanta has a single Yankee agitated such angst -- Inman-Ebel says she found her mailbox demolished and her yard strewn with toilet paper.See ACCENT, G7, Col. 1
"If anyone would like some preclass entertainment, I've got some more hate mail," she'd say before a class, passing out the letters prior to preaching the philosophy that the perfect accent is no accent. Then she'd start pulling vowels apart like clumpy spaghetti in the quest of the ideal voice, no roots unbleached. Tape recorders were advised for homework.
One syndicated columnist branded the course subversive. Other critics allege insecurity, maybe even commonist leanin's. Wire services spread the word. And a local radio station received a call from one Billy Bob from Whitwell (pronounced "Wuwull"), Tenn., threatening to kidnap students and jabber at 'em until they're so contaminated with Dixiespeak, ain't no way they can thank about any other kind of talkin'.
Not that it has to be a permanent voice-over, says Inman-Ebel, whose private clinic has worked with stroke patients, people with speech defects and broadcasters. But southerners should be able to step in and out of uncomfortable drawls as easily as they change overalls.
"We spend so much time and money on how to look and think differently, but the voice has been totally ignored," she says.
Yet ponder the horror: What if Yankeespeak catches on and everybody starts sounding like a tire worker from Akron, never again to open a dower or sit in a cheer.
What happens if a graduate gets pulled over by a country cop and the voice doesn't match up with the Tennessee tag? Might get arrested for car theft, or impersonating a Yankee.
"Yankees think we talk funny," drawls Lewis Grizzard, syndicated columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "God talks like we do." He points out that "the southern way of speaking is a language of nuance, a functional language. We can take a word and change it just a little bit and make it mean altogether somethin' different. Take the word 'naked.' Instead of saying, 'naked,' we say, 'nekkid.' It just feels good to say it. 'Ah wish Darlene was nekkid!' There's a difference. 'Naked' means you ain't got no clothes on. 'Nekkid' means you ain't got no clothes on and you up to somethin' . . .
"Yankees aren't too sure how smart we are. We move slow. We talk slow. We take our tahm. But I ain't seen no southerner pay to go inside no reptile farm."
"After southerners go up No'th, can't understand 'em hardly," says Motee Daniels, 71, an Oxford, Miss., raconteur who once warmed William Faulkner with white lightning and local drawl. ("Was born with mine and aim to keep it.") Maybe high-tech tongue prints will be available to verify roots someday. But leopards appear naked without their spots.
No one disputes the South is vulnerable to attack. It no longer has its man in the White House. Redneck chic died when Billy Carter divorced Pabst Blue Ribbon. Other symptoms abound: the fading draw of Pickup Power, cowboy boots and the Andy Griffith Show. And catfish and hush puppies ('course they're fried, where you from, boy?) don't jibe with the low-cholesterol diet.
But drawl-busting is "a very dangerous undertaking," says Emory University English professor Lee Pederson, who, as a linguist, would be out of bidness if Inman-Ebel's course caught on. "When you start messing with your speech, it's like the idiots who mess with the environment; no one knows what will happen for a long time. It might be like a sex-change operation, irreversible. You're culturally neutered."
In fact, any country boy who figures putting a few g's back on runnin', jumpin' and huntin' will urbanize him in a hurry, he'd better consider his image. According to one study, southern men drop g's far more often than their womenfolk. Reattach those g's and run the risk of being considered, well, "effeminate," says Duke University English professor and linguist Ron Butters.
"If you're a man, you've got to drop that g," or you won't sound as macho, he warns. "Put the g's back on and you also run the risk of sounding too scholarly or reserved."
Southerners agree they are sometimes difficult to comprehend. Often, a Yankee has no idea he's about to find someone going upside his haid -- he probably missed the warning: "Ahmun kick yo' butt." Slow reaction can usually be traced to the failure of northern schools to teach proper construction of the southern verb, "Ahmun."
Shall we conjugate? Ahmun, you-un, he-un, she-un, we-un, you-un, they-un kick yo' butt.
There are other ponderables. Many a Yankee has found himself on the losing end of a game called Drawlin' to Win in which those who play hardball in the Slow Lane chooseto slow it waaaaaaaaaaaay dooooooown.
"Take Catfish Hunter," says Jerry Clower, the portly, white-haired country-and-western comic and ex-fertilizer salesman from Yazoo City, Miss.
It seems the great curve-ball pitcher made a point of not getting "some big New York lawyer with suede shoes who talked like George Steinbrenner to negotiate his contract. Got hissef a country lawyer from North Carolina. Tore them Yankees up," says Clower.
With 14 comedy albums, Clower too knows how to pick his lawyers.
His deal was struck soon after an MCA record company attorney showed up in Yazoo City in alligator shoes.
"We ign'ant of all these city thangs," said Clower's country lawyer, as contracts were drawn up. "Ya'll can take advantage of us. Don't know nothin' 'bout no publishing and no copyright."
"That meant," grins Clower, that "they were going to leave all their money in Yazoo City." Quietly, his lawyer had bounced everything off a top D.C. copyright attorney. The rest is gold albums and Cadillacs.
Other advice for interlopers: take heed not to cozy up to the natives by mimicking their speech. A phony sets off fertilizer detectors. "Lady saw me on a Delta flight," says Clower. "Thought she was going to impress me talking. But I knew she was from The City. Real fancy. Had gold roun' her neck, diamond rangs on her fangers. So much green paint on her eyelids I thought her gall bladder done busted."
Lose your drawl, you lose your edge. "Saved me a thousand times," says Johnny Popham, the retired New York Times reporter who covered civil rights from 1947 to 1961, hazardous duty down South, after a stint as a Marine officer in World War II.
Students of Inman-Ebel, in moments of rebellion, noted that CBS correspondent Fred Graham had miraculously preserved his graceful magnolia lilt after all these years, defying the rule that network correspondents should deliver "news from nowhere," as writer Edward J. Epstein put it, the perfect accent being none at all.
And the students pointed out that Teddy Kennedy and Geraldine Ferraro could use some hep theysevs.
On the other hand, student Sandi Bryan, the preacher's wife, was thrilled to be able to apply her new-found knowledge to Dan Rather betraying his Texas origins. "I heard him say it," she said. "He said 'tin' for ten."
Her hero -- and he ain't even Ame'cun, honey -- is Canadian-born Peter Jennings of ABC. "I love the way he talks."
"Uniformity in all aspects is still good form," says Barbara Matusow, author of "The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor."
But: "I never found a good reporter who wasn't good on the air," ex-CBS News President Richard Salant told her. "Fred Graham was a classic case. People said, 'How can you put him on the air with that cracker accent?' I did, though, and and got away with it for 16 years."
Then there is the delicate matter of accent and self-esteem.
"I'd think twice about any job that wouldn't hire me because of regional dialect," says Pederson.
At least the law is on your side, providing for your right to your accent, as Richmond real estate agents found out several years back after courts ruled they had unfairly discriminated against blacks by steering prospective home buyers into neighborhoods based on guessing race from telephone conversations. Pederson was tapped as an expert witness.
He found in one 1981 study on regional speech patterns, based on 1,121 interviews in eight southern states, a trend toward "a general Urban Southern," with teen-agers from Atlanta sounding more and more like those from Jacksonville and Houston. Words, phrases and pronunciation that once separated parts of the South are "passing into obscurity."
Do we want this to happen? Take dragonflies. That's what they are called almost everywhere, except in the hills of southeast Tennessee ("snake feeders"), areas outside Atlanta ("snake doctors") and in rural parts of south Georgia ("skeeter hawks").
"The answer is to learn to speak different dialects for different purposes at different times," says one linguist. "But you don't have to wipe out your accent or lose sales. If you say, 'I might could do it,' that may raise some eyebrows, but you won't be misunderstood. Just don't talk Yankee to your loved ones. They'll think you're putting on the dog."
"Revel in the differences," says Roger Shuy, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University. "Speech is a paradox. We have to speak enough like one another enough to be understood, but different enough to preserve our humanity. If we all started speaking the same way, life on the planet would be pretty dull."
Vive la difference!
Say, "Detroit," Jerry.