How to Talk Foothills

“You ain’t from around here, are ya?” Despite my best attempts to learn local vernacular, I’ve been interrogated with this question a lot over the last ten years. I’m from “down east” where people put vinegar on barbeque and eat cohn on the cob, so locals here can tell I’m a flatlander whenever I open my mouth to eat or speak. My in-laws have tried to rehabilitate me with only meager success. 

My wife’s clan hails from Shelby–really Patterson Springs to be exact, or Pleasant Hill Church Road to be more exact. Using precise levels of exactness is a good way to endear yourself to locals. However, mispronouncing a place is a tell-tale sign of a newcomer, if not a downright insult to inhabitants. If you’re new to the Shelby area, you’d best learn to say Cherryville (Churvuhl), Mooresboro (Moesburo), Polkville (Pokevuhl), and Rutherfordton (Roughton) properly. Casar (Kayzer) is the benchmark pronunciation. Most out-of-towners have no idea how to pronounce the small Cleveland County town, population 296. Nearly all newcomers guess Caesar like Caesar salad. Make that mistake in Casar, and you’ll be fed to Knobby, the local sasquatch.

Throughout the foothills, the aw sound is widespread. While walking through the woods, you might see a frawg sitting on a lawg. Or inside watching tv, you might take a fawn call while watching Game of Thrawns. The drawn-out aw often takes the place of the letter o

Occasionally, it’ll be included with an i, too. Look no further than the word hill itself. Natives to the foothills pronounce it with a little extra emphasis and stretching. For instance, a Foothillian might say, “Did you go sledding down that hillawl?The bigger the hill, the more drawn out the pronunciation. The same goes for addition of the awl in God, or Gouawld. The more drawn-out the pronunciation, the more Baptist the speaker is or the bigger the swindler he is. Sometimes both apply.  

The best way to learn the foothills dialect is to listen to my wife’s popaw, Lowry. He’s eighty-five and was born and raised in Shelby. He speaks old-school foothills, which is reflected in his use of the letter r. Confusingly, he drops the r in some words and adds it to others. For instance, he refers to Charlotte as Shalut, but says wash as warsh. He often adds ar to the end of words like fellar. Then he’ll turn right around and remove the ar by saying something like backerds instead of backwards. To me, a former flatlander, none of this makes a lick of sense. In fact, as Lowry might say, it’s got me buffaloed, which is his go-to term for baffled. 

Lowry calls coke, as in Coca-Cola, dope, which he claims was once common terminology in Shelby. However, I tried ordering diet “dope” from a local eating establishment in Shelby, and the teenage waitress threatened to call the police.  

That said, talking foothills does have one perk. We used ain’t down east, but up here it’s also used in cain’t. Personally, I kinda like that because my mom (an English teacher) used to make me put a quarter in a jar every time I said ain’t. She strictly enforced this policy till I went bankrupt, after which I still avoided using it in her presence for fear of future reparation. At least now as an inhabitant of the foothills, I can say ain’t by hiding it cain’t and not run afoul of my mom.

16 thoughts on “How to Talk Foothills

  1. Howling with laughter but on a serious note I am more concerned about your BBQ than your speech. Are you one of the mustard people I’ve heard about?

    1. No, thank goodness. The only thing that brings together eastern NC (vinegar based) and western NC (ketchup based) is a general hatred of SC bbq (mustard based).

      1. Are you ketchup?
        I am a dry rub and vinegar sauce girl, but I do welcome all good pork. That mustard stuff is an abomination.

      2. I grew up vinegar based in Eastern NC (and that is where my heart is), but I’ve grown to tolerate ketchup based which is what my wife’s family is. Western NC is more pulled pork while eastern is more shredded pork. I think I like pulled better than shredded though.

      3. Totally a pulled pork fan.
        Not sure I’ve ever had ketchup based sauce, but I would give it a try. I used to think the Mississippi brown sugar base was an abomination until I tried it.

  2. I had to laugh. I’m from North Florida and it’s the same around here. Because so many people from other states are flocking to the area, my town has gone from a few thousand to many more. I absolutely despise the influx. The first thing people from cities do is to cut all the trees down, plant some from “up north” (which always die) and then complain it’s too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. (Hint: Tree cover stabilizes the temps).

    You have an excuse — you married into the family. People who just whiz through and then decide to stay become a problem.

    1. Yeah, it’s always kind of funny. Occasionally, we’ll have out of town environmentalist come in to oppose a reservoir near Casar. I’m against the reservoir, too, but I always cringe when I hear the out of towner say Caesar. If your going to be gung-ho about protecting a place, at least learn how to pronounce it properly.

  3. I am a mix of Essex and London and that shrieks southern but without the poshness of Surrey. Our dialects in England are really strong and thre is a divide North and South but it is diminishing which isnt a bad thing.

    1. We watch a lot of BBC shows, and it’s always interesting to hear the different accents. Sometimes I wonder how accurate they are. I always kind of cringe when I hear an actor try to do a southern US accent–it’s kind of a trope at this point. Dialects are diminishing here too. With people moving a lot more from place to place, they are all kind of blending together.

  4. Here in Northeast Ohio, we don’t have accents. 😁But apparently you can get a good idea of where people are from by asking whether they say devil strip or tree lawn.

    1. ok, I admit, I had to google it. I had never heard of tree lawn or devil strip. That’s interesting. So it’s the little strip between sidewalk and curb?

      1. Yeah. I think it’s an Ohio thing. Nobody else seems to have a name for them. “Devil Strip” is even more specific: I believe it’s only used in Akron. Weird.

  5. Several members of my dad’s side of the family live in the hills near Franklin. However they’ve yet to give up their yankee mannerisms and accents. I myself still can’t handle the taste cold sweet tea because of their influence 😂

    1. I’m the same way with non-sweet tea. I just can’t handle it. That’s probably because growing up my mom made tea so sweet it would likely qualify as syrup.

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