Field Notes on Country Linguistics

As Suzy stammered, my ears perked up. For distraction I called out, “Hey Kathy, put on another pot of coffee.” Suzy spoke again. The fact is, gouging my own eyes out with a ketchup bottle would not have distracted me. A linguistic calamity was eminent.

The hair on the back of my neck stood up, then it ran from the room. I knew where Suzy was headed. Her speech was like watching a car accident. It all moved in slow motion. Every instinct in me said tear the phone from her hand before it’s too late. But she had to learn to properly communicate with customers. Please Lord, I begged, don’t let her say it. Then it happened. Suzy uttered the words, “We’ll mam, I ain’t fer sures on that.”

Across America, English professors collectively wept. My mind locked. How could she have said it again? She had been with our company four months. Still, there was hope. Okay, Lord, you’re pretty funny, I sneered. Seriously, could her next words please be, “If you would not mind holding for one moment, I will find out the answer for you.” Ha! No such luck.

The gods hate me. After an awkward silence (while the caller and I shared an embolism), Suzy proceeded to take the customer’s order. Neither of them was any wiser for the experience. I stepped outside to meditate. Would I have to fire her? I was not fer sures on that?

You hear many endearing phrases in the county. I find, ‘a doins’ quite charming. Such as there’s a doins at Bubba’s tonight. Translated this means, festivities will take place at Bubba’s residence this evening.

‘Pert near’ is fun. Linguists translate this colorful twist on grammar as meaning, ‘almost’ not nearby. As in, pert near everybody ceptin that cidiot been told bout the rodeo. Meaning, almost everyone, except the new city idiot, was informed of the upcoming rodeo event.

Unfortunately, telling a high maintenance Dressage Equestrian (they are all high-maintenance), “Ya aint’s fer sures on that,” translates as, “Hello, we are illiterate, so buy our product.” Following this with no offer to expand your knowledge and assist the customers says, “We may be illiterate, but that’s ok. We also suck. Thank you and have a nice day.”

Tourists passing through this area have improperly translated another phrase. “What chya doin?” is often misinterpreted as the rhetorical “What’s up?” or “What’s happening?” Sadly, that is not its meaning. “What chya doin?” literally translates as, “What are you doing?” Confusion on this matter is based on timing.

“What chya doing?” is often asked when your activity could not be more blatantly obvious. For example: You’re spreading cheese over flat dough topped with tomato sauce. Mountains of pepperoni are poised nearby. A stranger asks, “What chya doin?” Heads up: They literally have not connected the dots. Do not wisecrack, “Installing solar panels.” Before you know it, you’ll be explaining how green peppers affect your hot water supply.

Here in South Dakota low wages have brought in large numbers of Customer Service call centers. Airlines, finance companies, catalog sales, these types of companies coagulate around Rapid City. Lately there has been a lot of concern over competition from India. Apparently the population of India is highly educated and enunciates in a manner more understandable than that of South Dakotans. Americans, not having Hindi as the mother tongue, stand little chance. Still, there is a certain irony in residents of the Black Hills losing something to Indians. How many groups will that statement offend? I ain’t fer sures on that.

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