Janet Harp Taylor
My family has an alternative way of speaking and I’m not talking about the way our North Mississippi accent flows effortlessly from our mouths. What I do mean is that we have different words and names we use for the most common everyday items. I’m not sure how it all started but maybe it had something to do with our given name being "Harp" and everyone calling us "Hart." I specifically remember an eighth grade boy writing "Tim Tucker loves Janet Hart" on his notebook. That’s when it was time for a breakup. But regardless of how the Harp way of speaking came to be, here are some of our Mississippi-isms:
“Hey, hand me that clacker.” The TV remote is the "clacker." We think "clicker" is way too fancy. And we rate movies not by Joel Siegel’s review or one to four star recommendations, but by them being "rental at best, worth renting, matinee worthy, or nighttime price."
Daddy works at "The Bobo Factory," I drive a "Honda Lulu," we shop at "Wild-Mart," and our morning greeting is "Morning Glory." We love to eat lunch at an all-you-can eat "Bouffant" provided Mama hasn’t got a roast and potatoes cooking in the "crotch pot."
As kids, my brother and I loved getting new "colors" and coloring books. We knew the proper name was Crayola crayons but to us, burnt sienna, Indian red, and magenta were our favorite "colors." And if I close my eyes and concentrate I swear I can still smell that pine green "color."
Sedum, the hardy perennial that emerges from the earth in spring, is "house leak." That’s Mama’s term because it grew under the leak of the falling down house she grew up in. We also call daffodils "buttercups." I don’t think my family made this one up since I hear lots of Southern folks marvel in February when the "buttercups" start to poke out of the ground. But maybe we did start this – after all we are a very special family.
Now my bunch does not limit themselves to renaming objects but people are fair game as well. We do have enough class though to keep the people names to ourselves because we wouldn’t dare hurt anyone’s feelings. The once chubby little boy next door to my parents will always be known as "Round Man." A cousin called "‘Porky" fathered a particularly healthy daughter known as "Pork Chop." I even taught my husband Robert how to do this and now our neighbors have aliases they don’t even know exist. There’s "Sugar Man" who once borrowed a cup of sugar, "Panama" who wears a Panama Jack hat, "Cadillac Man," the car salesman, "Waddle," the gal with the distinctive gait, and Robert’s fantasy girl "Ogle," a divorcee who’s lost fifty pounds and push mows the lawn in her short shorts.
Now these alternative words and names have been in our family for a long time and we are always on the look out for new language uses. And I recently heard one that will win me the Harp Family Word of the Year Award. I was in the parking garage at Vanderbilt and a "granny" car pulled up next to me and an attractive middle-aged woman asked if I knew where the "valette" parking was. Not understanding her exactly I said “Excuse me” and she repeated herself. “Can you tell us where the valette parking is?" It took me a second but I caught on. She was speaking my language. In my kindest voice I asked, “Do you mean the place where they will park your car for you?” And she bobbed her head up and down. “Yes, valette parking.” I pointed to the left saying “I think it's right over there.” “Thank you, thank you,” she said, as I grinned from ear to ear and watched her Mississippi car tag fade away.
Janet Harp Taylor has been a Tennessean for twenty years but her heart will always and forever remain in Mississippi. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.