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 wear that..")

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?


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