Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Y'all might should take note

A friend in my neighborhood playgroup sent a message out on one of the 18 yahoo groups of which I am a proud member asking if anyone wanted to go to the Houston Livestock Show. Now, it is Spring Break, aka, A Week of Desperate Mothering. Getting out of the house is priority one. And my kids would love looking at all the gigantic steer and baby chicks and not be at all concerned that their mom was holding her nose and screaming "Don't step in that!" between offers of Purell squirts.

If I went, I might have to take all four which would be both nerve wracking and potentially dangerous (an image of Ike being kicked in the head by a longhorn comes to my paranoid mind.) But if I were with other olfactory assaulted friends, it might be easier, and anything is better than staying at home - oh, the decisions one must make in mothering. All a mom can really do in such tenuous circumstances is remain non-committal. So I typed, "I might could do Friday" and hit reply.

And someone replied back to comment/laugh about my use of "might could".

Now, sweet Yankee friends, y'all don't say "might could" or "might shouldn't" or "might would" or "might better" or the best one of all, "might hada oughta." And it's a pity - almost on the level of your lack of the most glorious contraction of all: y'all.

But since it seems that the entire country has finally seen the light and does use y'all at least on occasion, it seems proper for me to give you a lesson a the glory of the double modal.

I first learned that this even had a name when I done goed to kollege and took some linguistics classes, most notably one called Language and Gender which was hard as heck but fascinating. We discussed some aspects of Southern speech including the double modal. Let me share y'all in my learnin.

Modals belong to a category of auxiliary verbs that includes would, ought, must, should, and have to, and the double modal is used almost always as a "softening agent". It's the Downy of Southern speech. (It is also almost exclusively female. The only masculine example that comes to my mind is this one: "You might should ask your momma before you...")

So we Southern females use it most often for two reasons: 1) to remain non-committal, as in my Livestock Show example, and 2) when what we have to say might could be a little hard to hear and bless your heart, we don't want to hurt your feelings. It's an imperative disguised as a gentle suggestion - but we all know what it means. Ignore it, and a prayer chain might could get started starring you.

Some examples:

"You might should go back to your hairdresser and ask her to please just cut your hair again just a little tiny bit right there maybe."

"You know, if you ate a teensy bit less bbq pork rinds, you might could get back in your skinny jeans."

"Sweetie, the Lord has layed it on my heart that we might should better pray about whether you ought to do that Song of Solomon interpretive dance at the nursing home visitation."

"Oh, I'd love to watch all four of your kids for all of Spring Break, but I might not can now. If you had just called me last week, I might would've been able to, dern it."

"Precious as they are, you might had oughta wait until after Easter to wear those white shoes, else the fashion police might could give you a ticket. (And might should.)"

See what I mean? Beautiful and oh so utilitarian.
How in the world does the rest of the country sweetly boss each other around without it?

57 comments:

  1. I'm glad I found this in a timely fashion and got to comment on it first. Because it rocks.
    JSJ

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  2. Oh, and I might could help you out at the Rodeo, if I weren't going to be in Austin indoctrinating the children in the ways of SXSW daytime free showcases.

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  3. I love this post. Love it.

    Your former lurker,
    Chrissy

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  4. Im in the Deep South ~ Alabama ~ and I can't even imagine living anywhere else. I love the language!

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  5. How did I survive these past 32 years without this marvelous Downy phrasing? I'm going to have to practice a little to get it to roll off my tongue just right...but since I don't have the sweet Southern accent to go along with it, I'm afraid people will look at me askance.

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  6. Haha ... I might just drag my little one to the livestock show on Friday just to use my good Southern girl double modals and glorious 'ya'll' contraction, just to see if you can find me! :-)

    Ya'll might oughta check the weather before you might could decide to might maybe go out there that day. It might could rain! :-)

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  7. My friends would PASS OUT if I ever pulled a "might could outta." But it's darling. I love southern talk.

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  8. "whether you ought to do that Song of Solomon interpretive dance at the nursing home visitation"

    LOL!

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  9. You crack me up.

    Last week Beth Moore in the Esther study taught me about chiastic structure and peripety, and now you've reminded me of this little jewel.

    I wonder if I might could use all of them at the same time?!

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  10. Oh I love a good double modal. It drives my parents crazy when I do it, bless their yankee hearts. That's interesting about the gender thing, I'd never realized that connection.

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  11. As for myself, I would like to go back in time and take that Language and Gender class with you. FASCINATING. I go completely Grammar Nerd over things like that.

    Thanks for putting a name to the "might could do that." Used that mah whole life without knowing the formal name, and yes, I definitely use it most when I am being utterly non-commital.

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  12. Hilarious! Loved the prayer chain comment! I used to live in a small TX town and just never really fit in with the locals. If only I'd read this sooner!!

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  13. Best post ever.

    God bless the south- my yankee neighbors told my girls y'all wasn't a real word, and I just told my girls not to argue. They can't help it that the neighbor kids don't know how to talk propoerly.

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  14. You meant to say, "they just weren't raised right", now didn't you Kelly?

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  15. Here's how Northern I am. (I'd say "Yankee," but that sounds very East Coast to me, like I should be from Vermont and summer on Martha's Vineyard. And I'm so not that. I'm very Upper Midwest with a hefty slice of Californian.)

    Anyway. I have friends from Texas (present company included) and I don't think I've ever heard a double modal in my whole stinkin' life.

    If you're wondering how the rest of the country does it:
    1. If you're from the Upper Midwest, you don't say anything to boss people around. You just smile sweetly and then act in a passive aggressive manner for the next 10 years. (This is not me, by the way. Drives me nuts about this area.)
    2. In California, you say, "Dude! Wicked! Not sure it's going to work, but thanks for asking."
    3. And if you're from the East Coast, you say, "What in the WORLD would make you think I would want to spend an entire day looking at cows?"

    You're welcome.

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  16. LOL! This is so true. The true Southern belle learns the many uses of the double modal from infancy.

    Xandra

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  17. I love this post for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that you spelled the contraction, "y'all," correctly. YOU GO GIRL!

    You might should post about the use of "Bless her/his/its/their/heart(s), too. People not from the South just don't know about it. Bless their hearts.

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  18. Omylord. I cannot stop chuckling. This is the BEST post EVER. I might could Stumble it.

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  19. "The Downy of Southern speech".....I love it. And I love your two reasons that Southern women use it. I'm from Illinois so this is all very educational......I feel like I'll be prepared to interpret should we ever meet in real life!

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  20. Missy,

    I think you are the only blogger on the planet who makes me laugh out loud...loud enough to wake my sleeping family.

    I love you, girl.

    Really, I do.
    Sandy

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  21. Oh, THANK YOU! A friend of mine just turned me on to my blog, and it helped this homesick girl not be quite so homesick...I'm a TN gal who moved to WI almost five years ago, and I sure do still miss the South! SO TRUE are your sentiments here. I'll tell you, SOME of the people I have met in the midwest still boss you around...just not as sweetly as southerners do, for sure. I might should use the double modal a little more often to model the sweeter behavior :).

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  22. This is so wonderful! I love it. I need to share it with my new southwestern friends. They love my accent and my sayings, but this just explains things perfectly!!

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  23. Hilarious. And so dead on. I love the double modal and didn't known it had a name until today! You have learnt me. And I went to koll-edge and got one of them thar Enlish digrees. Hmph.
    Anyway, lurve it. I might should use those more often!

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  24. I love "might could." My husband (a NJ Yankee) thinks I'm nuts. I tell him, "I have an English degree. I know the "correct" way of saying "I might be able to..." but I'm choosing to honor my upbringing." I think he's scared that I'm homeschooling our children! Bless his heart.

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  25. Haha, I've never heard those words together before. I'm a Cannuck who married a yankee and neither one of us have spent any time in the south :) You could stop by my blog and learn how to effectively use the punctuation "eh" on the end of a sentence :)

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  26. sweetie, you needed to post a warning before that one. i just about snorted my coke zero out of my nose.

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  27. This post was too funny. I'm from Texas, and well, we really do talk like that.

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  28. I might could learn something from you! Cute post. Oh, and we use ya'll all the time here in WV.

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  29. LOL! As a Midwesterner living in the South now (going on 4 years already!), I do get tickled every time one of my local friends says "might could." Absolutely adorable.

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  30. Wow! I could even hear your sweet southern drawl. Sweet as honey. I might shoulda try this technique.

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  31. This is awesome! I picked up "y'all" in college from a dear Texas friend. We teased her mercilessly until we realized just how helpful it was. So now I use it all the time and get my chops busted quite frequently for it here in SoCal. The double modal though, that might be a begging a bit too much indulgence.

    For your next linguistic exposition, might I suggest an exploration of the etymology for the phrase "fixin'" as in, "I'm a fixin' to get off this 'ere couch and get a glass of sweet tea". That one never did resonate for me...

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  32. Love your post! I was just a fixin' to go to bed, but stopped in to visit. Thanks for the chuckles...living in northern Florida, near the Alabama and Georgia border should require special linguistics for tourists!! I love "Southernese"!

    Bless you!
    Susan

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  33. I'm here by way of Shannon at Rocks in my Dryer, and I must say that you've managed to charmingly mingle two of my favorite things: grammar and things distinctly Southern. Nicely done!

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  34. I'm from California, so I've never heard anyone use a double modal before. I've only heard about them from a linguistics professor, and the whole class almost couldn't believe her!
    But thanks for this awesome, and very enlightening post. I might oughta use some double modals in the future myself! lol

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  35. Oh, from a fellow Texan I must say this is precious...just precious! Thanks for reminding me of how sweet I sound when I give my unsolicited opinions to my girlfriends! LOL! I'm fixin' t' git some New York friends to move here and they definitely need to read this! Bless yer heart! Lisa~

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  36. LOVE this!

    What other people see as a grammar mistake, is actually pure graciousness perfection.

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  37. Lovely post,
    I almost spit out my coffee, thank you very much!
    I am simply facinated with Southern speak and one day I want to convert to all Southern speak all the time.
    But-- I 'm stuck in Oregon--
    ah well~
    the post was funny, but the comments were spectacular!

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  38. I think this is the best blog post I've ever read. Thank you for your efforts to educate all those folks not fortunate enough to have learned to speak Southern, bless their hearts.

    --A Tennessean sentenced to two years hard time in northern Indiana.

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  39. Here from Rocks...

    So dern funny. I think I should make my husband read this so he understands me on the occasion that I use the double modal. He might could understand me then.

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  40. I've heard these combinations all my life....and agree that it is like Downy to the Southern slang. It all just seemed normal to me until I did consider that it just might seem foreign to others. But y'all know it just might could sound right to all us Southerners. I hope y'all made it to the rodeo. We were away on Spring Break, but we were in AL so I didn't miss any twang.....we just might could go back and visit again since my son lives there. Loved this post!

    Suzanne

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  41. I don't speak with an accent (all those years livin' like a Yankee might could have something to do with that), but I do use the double modal on occasion and the y'all contraction almost always. But since I might shoulda taken Language and Gender but didn't, I had no idea that what I was doing might coulda been linguistically correct. I am SO relieved!

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  42. I've lived all my life using double modals and even though I did make it to college I didn't get to learn that...mostly because I was studying something that didn't have anything to do with English or really anything useful at all...I might shoulda gone your way.

    I loved the part about double modals being the Downy of Southern speech. That is just perfect. Thanks for making the day just great.

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  43. OH MY WORD... this is HILARIOUS because it is SO STINKIN' TRUE!!!!!
    My husband actually left the room, completely befuddled by the tears streaming, shoulders shaking, and laughter stifling scene on the couch.

    Might should've handed him the laptop. Bless his heart.

    Loving your blog -- thanks for the laughs AND for the encouragement (just read the maggots post, too)

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  44. Oh yummy grammar post!! Love it. I think my students might could need to read this.

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  45. As a former yankee who is now southern by marriage (indicated by my adoption of the phrase "fixin' to" -- how that weaseled its way in I'll never know) I adored this post. I have a dear friend in SC that speaks this language...I'll be sending her link when I finish here! Thanks for the laughs and the lesson.

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  46. Oh deary me, that's awesome. I have lived in Southern California for almost 9 years, but grew up in Kansas and my mother grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, so even now my speech gets a little Southern. This bit is one of my favorites. The looks I get can be be priceless. In fact, I think I might oughtta brush up a little on the dialect.

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  47. Loved it. Living in the deep south, myself, and with three kids and a husband...I use the double modal quite frequently. Glad to know it's okay to be bossy, if used properly.

    Thanks for the giggle!

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  48. This post made me smile all the way down to my southern roots. :)

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  49. oh goodness, you had me rolling over this! I have always lived in Ca, but I am starting to really appreciate the gentleness of southern language..I loved how you called this the "downy"...Someone else in blogland explained the concept of "bless her heart", and I find myself using it in my mind, it softens the way I think of people, I'm finding.

    thanks for the laugh, I love the monkeys! That book was my son's favorite when he was little.

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  50. **Loved*** your examples--I was laughing out loud, especially at the one about the interpretive dance. :D

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