Every region has its own distinctive vernacular and vocabulary, but it takes outsiders to point out these idiosyncrasies in language to native speakers. In my cozy mystery, “Murder on Sugar Creek,” the young reporter, Tyler, plays the role of the person who’s not from around here.
When amateur sleuth and the book’s protagonist, Maggie Morgan, responds to a request for directions by saying, “I don’t care to help you,” Tyler scoffs. In his world, “I don’t care to” literally means the speaker doesn’t care.
In eastern Kentucky, it means, “Why, shore, Bub, I’ll help you out.”
I have no idea when or why “I don’t care to” became a positive response. In fact, I didn’t know the phrase prompted controversy until circa 2008 when I attended a get-together populated primarily by people not from around here. These friendly, considerate folk were in no way ridiculing us. They were, however, baffled by certain expressions they had not heard until they moved here.
Of course, they also exaggerated. One of them noted that we refer to those bodies of water that run by our homes and roads as “cricks.” That’s just ridiculous. They’re creeks. A crick is a pain in your neck.
But it’s true that we live in hollers instead of hollows, that hogs waller in the mud, and that misbehaving children are often accused of behaving like hetherns. I don’t think I’ve ever correctly pronounced the word heathen. Or, for that matter, greasy, spigot, and tomorrow. Those words become greezy, spickit, and tuhmar once you enter our mountains.
We also love to pluralize. My daddy worked in the coal mines. We shop at the Walmarts. We cheered on John Wall(s) the year he played for our beloved Wildcats.
We’re also directionally challenged. Indeed, as my characters can attest, we frequently travel up to Tennessee and down to Ohio. One of my crack proofreaders noticed this in my manuscript and marked it as a mistake. It’s not a mistake, though, it’s just how we talk.
In an effort at full disclosure, however, I must admit that I try to pronounce and use words correctly and to adhere to proper grammar. Yet, despite the best efforts of others, I continue to describe knit caps as toboggans and I refuse to call that annoying, stinging insect a wasp. It’s a wasper. I know the difference, but I don’t care to use the right term. And, in this case, I don’t care to really means that I’m not doing it.