The Hole Story

One of the main reasons that the USA, despite its ethnic diversity, has held itself together as well as it has (well, aside from that little scuffle back in the mid-1800’s) is that we all speak the same English language. But that’s only in the most general sense; American English takes a lush and delightful profusion of regional forms, and nowhere is this more evident to a flinty old Yankee like me than in the folksy and playful argot of the South.

Though I was raised in New Jersey by British parents, I learned that there was more to our American language early on, from the Southern-born mother of a couple of my of my boyhood friends. A sample: I can recall her saying, in a melodious West Tennessee cadence, about a particularly dimwitted relative: “Oh, don’t you listen to him; he don’t know nuthin’. Why, he don’t even suspect nuthin’.” I thought that was outstanding, and tried it out myself at home, with predictably flat results. (As Mark Twain said of his wife’s feeble attempts at profanity, I had the words, but not the music.)

Anyway, what brings this to mind this evening is a story in today’s Times about a truly enormous sinkhole down in East Texas, the result, apparently of the collapse of one of the subterranean salt domes that are common in the area. (Here’s a picture of it; it’s pretty impressive.)

Salt-dome catastrophes being a pet subject of mine, I started reading — and was introduced straightaway to a senior local authority, who offered a pithy recap:

“It’s unreal — the earth just wallered up,” said Lynn Wells, the mayor and fire chief, who monitored emergency efforts, speeding back and forth on his red Harley-Davidson.

I had to tarry gratefully for a moment here — not only to form a suitably fleshed-out mental image of our Mr. Wells, astride his ruddy hog, pausing to share his geological expertise with the Times’ lay readership, but also to roll the expression around on the tongue for a time or two. Wallered up. Think of that! The Earth just wallered up.

Anyway, if you’re curious to learn more, you can read the whole story here. Oh, and by the way, the locals have a name for their new topographical feature, of course: they’re calling it the Sinkhole de Mayo.

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3 Comments

  1. JK says

    Malcolm,

    Yore gwina have to be shadowy up there in Yankee land spectin’ ar lingy. Your friends are gonna think the cheese has done slipped off yore cracker.

    JK

    Posted May 10, 2008 at 3:41 am | Permalink
  2. eugenejen says

    Interesting anecdote on double negative. I thought it was only limited to black English.
    (Of course even Brits say it like Cockney and the famous Pink Floyd song). But when I
    was a kid in school learning English, teachers always smacked us on this in grammar test.

    Eugene

    Posted May 11, 2008 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  3. JO says

    Malcolm
    interesting post–in Arkansas, we say we “wallered” around in something, like mud!
    Jeanie

    Posted May 11, 2008 at 6:18 pm | Permalink