“It’s impossible to explain to a Yankee what `tacky’ is. They simply have no word for it up north, but my God, do they ever need one.”
— from The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy
I think that “tacky” may be universally understood by speakers of American English by now, but there are surely other Southernisms that are at best misunderstood and at worst mocked by non-speakers. I did not realize myself that some of the words I used regularly were regional until I went away to college and got laughed at for saying them.
“Don’t be so HATEFUL!” my friends would say with an exaggerated drawl. Well, at least I was in good company. The word makes frequent appearances in that Southern masterpiece, Gone with the Wind: “Ashley’s so mean and hateful!” says Scarlett to Melanie at one point. We were regularly ordered not to be hateful when I was a little girl. I say it to my little ones all the time.
Another thing parents often say to children in these parts: “Stop acting so ugly.” I don’t think I need to explain what that means, do I?
I didn’t grow up using a lot of specifically East Tennessee vocabulary. My mother is only a second generation East Tennessean, and we learned what was “proper” from her. My father’s family, here for over 200 years, speak very differently. My Granny would greet us with, “Give Granny some sugar.” She’d tell me that what I was looking for could be found “over yonder,” and she’d say “I reckon” instead of “I suppose.”
I reckon if I am an East Tennessean there’s no reason I shouldn’t sound like one. I’ve already decided I want to be “Granny” when I have grandchildren, and I’ve added the very useful helper “fixin’ to” to my vocabulary. For example, I’m tired, and I’m fixin’ to go to bed now.