Hands off the tropes!

September 12th, 2008 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

A big loss living in the North is the literary qualities of ordinary speech. While I’m where I belong after 10 years in Manhattan and 29 in Boston, I know and notice that most Yankees are ignorant of the art of words.

In contrast, many Southerners come from a much more oral tradition. Metaphors and puns, allusions and tropes spill out continually in ordinary conversation. Whether it’s a cashier, waitress or governor, colloquialisms and other colorful language are everywhere. Yankees may lead in academic lectures and texts, but Southerners put the play in wordplay all day long.Their literary tradition reinforces this.

Of course, that came to mind with the current silliness of Barack Obama using a very old Southernism like putting lipstick on a pig. For the moment, we can pretend that John McCain, G.W. Bush and other Republicans don’t also use that expression, one that has spread widely in this country and beyond. This trivial case is not necessary to prove their hypocrisy and dishonesty.

What’s at work here is not so much this expression as the effort to rob us of such a small, but important pleasures. Southerners don’t strain at wordplay or make it a contest. Instead, the regular aural thrills are part of the gracious gifts of discourse and human contact. A memorable expression here, a flare of humor in the next moment, and the occasional mot juste (not a common phrase down there) are the small pleasures that serve as social lubricant.

I’m certainly not ready to cede those mundane but important pleasures.


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