Chances are, you’ve never heard of Bob Batch. But years ago, I found myself in a comedy club in D.C., sitting in the back of the room waiting for “this guy you gotta see” to come on. This sentiment was uttered by my college roommate, who had seen the comedian before and swore he was “funniest thing you ever saw.”
Well, not quite, but Bob Batch had a most original routine, one that stuck with me for a long time. Batch is a Kentucky native, so he knows a thing or two about the redneck. And any man who takes the stage to John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is my kind of guy.
Batch’s shtick was dialect, specifically, how we Southerners talk. For those of you of a Northern (or overseas) persuasion, this could be considered your primer for understanding what the hell we mean. Of course, part of the reward for speaking Southern is that y’all can’t understand us. But, as the late great Lewis Grizzard said, “God talks like we do.”
Batch had a seemingly endless supply of flash cards with which he schooled the audience (as you can see in the clip here — full disclosure: the crowd doesn’t seem to get the jokes). Two of my favorites were “SMATTERCHEW” and “MOMONYMS,” which, to any Southerner, are self-explanatory. But for the rest of you, I’ll explain by paraphrasing Batch.
“Smatterchew” is what you’d say to someone who didn’t look well — someone who “might be coming down with something.” Being concerned, you’d ask “Smatterchew?”
“Momonyms” is where you go for Thanksgiving — to see your mother and her kin. “We’re going to Momonyms for supper.”
Besides the unique inflections that come from the accent, there are countless other ways our language sets us apart from the other, less fortunate, states. If you don’t believe me, watch Sling Blade (“How much yohnt fer em?”). The aforementioned Lewis Grizzard was an astute observer of Southern dialect and would say things like “we were outside when there come up a bad cloud.” Or he’d tell a story about the time his boyhood friend and great American Wayman C. Wannamaker, Jr., had to “set up with the dead.” And just last week, I familiarized my Virginia-raised son with the concept of “Tuesday week.”
It works like this: Let’s say it’s Thursday, and you have to go to the dentist on the Tuesday after the upcoming Tuesday. Now, you could say “next Tuesday,” as opposed to “this Tuesday,” but of course that would be confusing, even if it’s known that “this Tuesday” is actually the next Tuesday (see what I mean?). Or you could say, a week from Tuesday. But then you have to explain if it’s a week from THIS Tuesday or NEXT Tuesday. But “Tuesday week” means just that — not the Tuesday that comes after this weekend, the one after that. Makes perfect sense.
Just like the difference between “supper” and “dinner.” There are three meals in the day — why do we need four words to describe them? In the evening, you eat supper. You eat dinner in the middle of the day. Using the same word to describe one meal is just a confusing waste of words.
While we’re on the subject, I’ve been living in Virginia — which claims to be part of “The South” — for 14 years, and I still have to specify — unnecessarily — that I want sweet iced tea. Is there any other kind to have with supper? I don’t know why beverages are so tricky — you got your soda, cola, pop. To us, it’s a coke. And when we ask for a coke, the nice waitress will ask us “what kind?,” and we’ll say something like, “Sprite,” or “Co-cola.” And ask her, “How much yohnt ferit?”
So that’s tonight language lesson. Now ahmoan set down with some tea and hope there don’t come up a bad cloud while I watch some football.