More 1908 Dialect Notes on E 'Bama (white) English

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Tue Aug 31 04:54:16 UTC 2010

On Mon, Aug 30, 2010 at 9:43 AM, Charles C Doyle <cdoyle at> wrote:

> "You don't say" is pan-American!

I also have that impression. There are _quite a few_ (Does that one
strike a familiar chord, Charlie? It just shouts "East Texas" to me,
though I'm sure that it's probably used elsewhere, too) examples in
that vocabulary that I would never have thought that anyone would ever
cite as peculiar to Eastern Alabama.

The author does note that certain words and phrases are "universal,"
but my impression is that he means by it only "used not just in
*Eastern* Alabama - he notes that Auburn, home of the Alabama
Polytechnic Institute, is nearby and occasionally cites college slang,
e.g. _wife_ "roommate," _woman_ being the local word for "wife" sensu
stricto -  by whites, but also used all *over* Alabama by both negroes
and whites"' and not "used all over the United States by everybody."

I've seen "I swan" in print since the WWII days of Li'l Abner, Dan'l
Flannel, and Barney Google & Snuffy Smif. However, I've heard it used
in the wild by only one person, a thin-but-very-cute,
olive-_complected_ (only Texas?) girl from Georgia that I had occasion
to chat with at my summer job as a PBX-operator/receptionist in Saint
Louis. This was back in 1955  and it used to freak me out because I
couldn't tell whether she was white or black merely by looking at her
and listening to her speech and there's no cool way to ask anyone such
a question. The problem was that I saw her only on neutral ground. Had
I seen her in the 'hood, I wouldn't have thought for an instant that
she was anything but black.

The DN-author cites "I swan" and etymologizes it as a cover for "I swear."

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

The American Dialect Society -

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