Tag Archives: colloquialisms

A mighty near mis-fire

It’s good thing I stopped myself before I acted irrationally and fired off another letter to the editor of The Washington Post. Instead I thought twice and had a good laugh at my own expense.

You might remember that some time back I wrote the Post, highlighting a grammatical error in one of the paper’s editorial page headlines. They didn’t find my letter fit to print and I didn’t hear a thing from anyone except my faithful blog readers. (I still owe Craig Dees a prize for best suggested follow-up).

Let me set the stage.

The summer before I started college, I worked in Georgetown with a woman from Charlotte. I’m not sure I’d ever met anyone from North Carolina before, and I found charm in her manner of speech.

Once, in conversation, a phrase she used caught my ear:  “Debbie said I might could borrow her car.” Might could.

I understood that what she meant was might be able to, although I actually thought she was joking when she said it.

As you know, I’ve since met dozens, if not hundreds, of North Carolinians, and have come to enjoy their colloquialisms. Might could is one I still hear a lot but, as many Southerners as I know, I don’t recall ever hearing it from anyone from South Carolina or Tennessee or Georgia or Arkansas or Alabama. No matter.

You’ll find no shortage of online dialogue about might could if you’re inclined to look it up. I learned there’s a Southern rock band called Might Could. Cute.

I also learned that might could is a “double modal,” and is as frowned upon as a double negative. Even so, the phrase, while structurally incorrect, has gained acceptance as a mere regional lapse. Frankly, I’ve heard it so many times over the past three decades that, when I do, only one hair stands up on the back of my neck.

But to read it in the paper, that’s a whole different grind of grits.

Yesterday the Post ran an opinion piece by leading foreign policy expert Robert Kagan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. His piece was entitled: “Powering down: A decline in U.S. military might could upend the world order.”

I was outraged. Shame on Dr. Kagan for this sloppy title, if he indeed wrote it, and shame on the Post if they did. I drafted an angry letter in my head as I re-read the header over and over.

Then I realized – that the subject in the sentence was “a decline in military might.” Might. As in strength. Force. Power. The decline [in military might] could upend the world order. Duh.

I was reading it as though a decline in U.S. military might could upend the world order.

Maybe now I can calm down and read Dr. Kagan’s piece.

And maybe my readers from the lovely Tar Heel state, bless their hearts, might could forgive me for the snap.


Filed under All Things Wordish, News

Chesapeake speak

Yesterday I had another occasion to call into a help desk. This time, my computer virus protection package was expiring and I had a question about the renewal.

No grammatical goofs came through this time but, if they did, they were overshadowed by something else. When I inquired as to whether there had been a problem with my subscription renewal, the young woman said, “There’s no problem, Hon.”


Immediately, I suspected this didn’t roll off the tongue the way most terms of endearment do, say by a salty diner waitress or an avuncular car salesman.

Call me a cynic, but I’ll bet you anything that my call came in with some sort of tag saying I was dialing in from Maryland. “Hon” is Maryland’s trademark pet name; the closer you are to Baltimore, the more likely you’ll hear it.

Perhaps it was a case of life imitating art imitating life.

Here’s what I mean. Last fall, NBC debuted a sitcom called Outsourced. Based on a film of the same name, the show is set in a call center in India. The American manager trains Indian help desk operators to seem American by teaching them about the U.S. culture and speech. Here, have a look:

It’s no secret many U.S. companies run business operations out of India and other countries, where it’s cheaper and more efficient to do so. And it’s true that these customer service personnel have become adept at communicating seamlessly with American customers. Maybe that’s why they all seem to be named Julie.

I gather help desk operators, regardless of where they’re based, work off a pretty tight script and they stick to it. I already know they have key data about me. What’s to say they the script doesn’t weave in a geo-specific colloquialism or two for effect?

Are ya with me, Hon?

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Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio, Technology and Social Media