Learn ya’ll how to speak: UA Ozark dialect event

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 3,830 views 

It was standing-room only at the unsuspecting Arkansas Archeological Survey building Tuesday night. The more than two dozen people were there to hear Outreach Coordinator for the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History Susan Young present, “Down in the Holler,” an examination of the roots of the Ozark dialect.

The lecture was filled with laugher and often times pronunciations missing the letter “g” or phrases starting with “a.”

Young traced the Ozark dialect back to its roots. This subject is a passion for her because, as she qualified, she’s fifth generation Ozark.

“These are things I love to study. It’s the stereotypical stuff people think of with the Ozarks … moonshinin’, revivals, I like these old ways,” she said.

She said she wasn’t raised in a log cabin but close. Her parents and grandparents were. She’s made it her career talking to elders in the Ozarks and passing their history to others to perpetuate.

Whether it’s for nostalgia, tourism or the simple yearning to reflect on what’s perceived as a simpler time, her lecture circuit has picked-up lately.

She said she takes pride in “learnin’ ya’ll how to speak,” a common phrase that could be heard in the Ozarks, along with many others.

Do any of these words sound familiar to you?
Let me axe you a question. Are you afeared of bein’ nekkid? If not, I reckin’ you might be faunchy.

Need a decoder?
Let me ask you a question. Are you afraid of being naked? If not, I suppose you might behave boisterously.

The small-crowd chuckled and Young said she grew up hearing the word “nekkid” in her small country church. The word appears many times in the bible and she was never embarrassed as a little girl. “But one day came a high-profile church preacher and he said ‘naked’ and it embarrassed me and still does to this day but I can say nekkid all day long and it doesn’t bother me.”

Young said while many of these words and phrases might seem “hillbilly” they actually came from the British Isles centuries ago.

“Ninety-nine percent of these words aren’t really ours. They came from the Appalachians and the majority of them came from the British Isles,” she said.

Many can be traced back to Geoffrey Chaucer and “The Canterbury Tales,” at the end of the 14th century. That’s where “axe” came from and “heep.” You’n a heep of trouble, meaning “a lot.”

Since it’s October and near Halloween, in the Ozarks they might be talking about boogers and haints, meaning ghosts or supernatural beings. Young said growing up hearing these words and then seeing them in print she was amazed, still to this day some words still trip her up.

For instance, after the lecture she was going dreckly home to eat rosin ear.

Any ideas?

She was doing directly home to eat a roasting ear of corn.

Young had many more examples which proved entertaining and when she takes her lecture on the road to Arkansas schools, the children light-up and some even know these words and phrases.

“I think a goal is to keep these words alive and not keep them on a shelf,” she continued, “When I hear asomethin’ it’s like it blooms in me, it’s like music.”

She hopes everyone who listens to her speak takes one word and uses it to keep the Ozark dialect alive before we gaum up our culture. Another word, before we make a mess of it.

Below are some more Ozark words for fun reference:
Blinky/blinks: to sour
Complected: type of skin
Country: immediate area, not meaning foreign country
Dinner: midday meal
Ferner: anyone not from the Ozarks
Goozel: throat
Holler: narrow valley or call out
Hunker down: to squat
Poke: a sack
Ruinate/ruination: to ruin, spoil
Supper: evening meal