Heard in Missouri: "but good!"

Dennis Preston preston at MSU.EDU
Sat Dec 22 12:11:31 UTC 2007

This is a very interesting comment on the regionality of "but good."
Susan's associates it with her knowledge of "fixin" and "y'all,"
which points to a southern provenience. I wonder if other
caricaturistic elements aren't in play here.

A couple of years ago an undegrad student persuaded me to let her do
a "free association" survey in which she presented just the notions
"North" and "South" to respondents (not northern and southern speech)
to see how many might be connected to regional speech stereotypes.
(The south "is slow" and southerners "talk slow." Two results seem to
me to be connected to things brought up so far in this discussion:

1) A survey of the labels offered by her respondents suggested that
the north was "young" and that the south was "old." An earlier
response to this thread suggested that this phrase might be out of
fashion with younger speakers; if so (or if even thought to be so),
then this age stereotype of north and south would be partly

2) The north is urban and the south is rural, and 2) fits in with 1)
nicely. Older and more conservative speakers live in rural areas, and
they will use old-timey expressions.

Finally, even among linguists, there seems to be a belief that the
speech of the US south (and perhaps rural areas in general) is more
colorful, more given to metaphoric or nonliteral expression. Although
this did not surface in the survey overtly, it was implied in many
"expressions" that the respondents used to characterize typical
persons (even though they were not asked to comment on language
differences at all). Northern speakers had current hip young persons
slang (and a great deal of obscenity); southerners had rural and
metaphoric expressions (often badly expressed by these northern
respondents), but the image was clear.

The upshot of this overlong holiday message is that ideological
factors intervene in our perception of region. Of course there is a
rural north; of course there are young people in the south, etc....,
but they do not match our overwhelming stereotypes (or at least those
of the Michiganders who took this little survey).

This reminds me as well of a more careful study conducted a few years
ago (Bartlomiej Plichta, Dennis R. Preston,  & Brad Rakerd. 2005. The
/ay/s have it. In T. Kristiansen, N. Coupland & P. Garrett (eds).
Acta Linguistica Hafniensia 2005 ('Subjective processes in language
variation and change'), 107-30). Men's and women's voices were
resynthesized to show seven degrees of /ay/ monophthongization (from
none to full). Respondents then placed these voices (saying "guide")
on one of nine fairly equidistant sites on a straight line from
Saginaw MI to Dothan AL. Although the men's and women's voices were
exactly matched on degree of monophthongization, the women were
ranked as significantly more "northern" at each step of
monophthongization. Men are said to be from Mars and women from
Venus; the truth is that men are from the south and women from the

See, Susan, you just thought you were of no help to anyone. For some
of us, anything anybody says about language is of help, but good.


>---------------------- Information from the mail header
>Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>Poster:       Susan Rosine <basenjiluvr at MSN.COM>
>Subject:      Re: Heard in Missouri: "but good!"
>I'm afraid I'll be of no help to anyone on this issue. I've heard it and
>used it, but the problem is, my mother is from Alabama, my dad is from
>Indiana, I was born in Colorado but grew up in Washington state. So I can't
>regionalize it for you, since I'm not really sure of the source (who/where).
>   If I HAD to guess, I would think I use it because my mom does, just as I
>use "fixin" and "y'all".
>I'm fixin' to confuse y'all BUT GOOD!!!
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

Dennis R. Preston
University Distinguished Professor
Department of English
Morrill Hall 15-C
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48864 USA

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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