*Note: This is being specifically written with the Check, Please! fandom in mind, as a lot of people are gearing up for fics set in Georgia. I’m personally from North Carolina, so I’m going to be concentrating on language and cultural details that pertain broadly to the Southeastern US, as opposed to GA specifically, but I’ll try to include links to resources where I can, so people can follow them into more detailed research as needed. Let’s just say that as a North Carolinian who went to college in Iowa, I can imagine the many conversations Bitty’s had trying to explain basic cultural differences to a bunch of New Englanders and Canadians.
The Singular Y’all
Short version: Not. Even. Once.
There is nothing guaranteed to annoy a person from the South like reading a misused “y’all.” It’s really not that hard: y’all = you all, which is clearly plural. PLURAL. A carelessly thrown out singular y’all will throw a reader right out of the story and into unwanted indignation and linguistic analysis.
“But I’ve heard that there are some places that use the singular y’all!” you say. This Slate article offers the best examination of the subject I’ve found on the internet so far. The most telling section:
“Y’all” might also take on the role of a formal marker through a sweetening effect. If you wrap the message in an extra layer of Southernness, it goes down easier. In a 1984 paper on the “y’all” controversy, Gina Richardson gives a few examples of the ways Southerners do just this. They exaggerate their dialect in front of outsiders for social purposes:
One woman reported that she had purposely used exaggerated speech on a recent trip when she had unwittingly aroused the anger of a New York bus driver, and decided it would be a good idea to stress her lack of New York savvy. A college student mentioned that she tended to use exaggerated Southern when she was trying to soften advice that might not be well received — for example, when she indicated her disapproval of her roommate’s fad diet.
Maybe Northerners aren’t just making stuff up. They have been hearing singular “y’all” all along. They just didn’t realize it was not part of Southern English, but a different dialect, Exaggerated Southern English. The very fact of their not being Southern is what brings the singular “y’all” into existence.
In the CP!-specific context, I argue that Bitty would never use the singular y’all. He notes multiple times that his dislikes his accent. He is unlikely to be trying to exaggerate his Southernness at Samwell. The above article goes on to note that such Exaggerated Southern English is more likely to be used by Southerners working in urban Southern environments where they come into frequent contact (presumably in the office) with non-Southerners and use the singular y’all as an in-group badge of identity. If anything, Bitty would eschew this usage entirely.
For more on y’all and other Southern dialectal features, the Wikipedia article on Southern English offers a good starting point.
On a related note, let’s talk about eye dialect. From Wikipedia again:
Eye dialect is the use of nonstandard spelling for speech to draw attention to an ironically standard pronunciation. The term was coined by George P. Krapp to refer to the literary technique of using nonstandard spelling that implies a pronunciation of the given word that is actually standard, such as wimmin for women; the spelling indicates that the character’s speech overall is dialectal, foreign, or uneducated.
The use of eye dialect in writing is something that needs to be approached with delicacy. As noted from the definition above, it has habitually been used in a derogatory manner. When it appears sparsely, with the occasional “-in'” shortening at the end of a word, it can be seen as conveying that Bitty is feeling/sounding particularly Southern at that moment, but if applied to every single line he speaks, it becomes distracting and exaggerated to the point of caricature. Bitty was an elite figure skater before he got a scholarship to a prestigious liberal arts school; we can safely assume he’s not uneducated or that he grew up in actual rural isolation. His figure skating coach was Russian, after all.
The use of eye dialect is a separate issue from regional vocabulary, which is why I’ve put it in a different place from the discussion of “y’all.” I personally feel that it’s much less controversial to convey Bitty’s Southernness through the judicious use of Southern vocab than to resort to very much eye dialect.
For a related discussion, see Daniel José Older’s short but informative video on why italicizing supposedly “foreign” words in a bilingual speaker’s speech is disrespectful. This can be seen as applying to Jack’s use of French in otherwise English conversations. (If you show someone having an entire conversation in another language that it isn’t expected that the narrator understand, italics are still permissible, as the language is being presented as genuinely foreign/not understood, ie, Jack’s phone conversation with his father on the loading dock.)
Cars and Driving
The main thing you need to understand about transportation in the Southeast is that pubic transit is essentially non-existent. Indeed, if you’re from anywhere even approaching rural, such as Madison, there’s no hope of getting around if you don’t have a car. In general, outside of very concentrated urban centers, the Southeast is the definition of suburban sprawl. Growing up in Raleigh, NC, my parents commuted 30-45 minutes to work each way, not counting the time they spent taking me and my brother to school and sports practices. The idea of not having two working cars was tantamount to disaster. In fact, until just a few years ago, my parents maintained three cars, just so they’d have an emergency back-up, because they could not get anything done without two working cars. I’m pretty sure the only reason they gave up the third car was because my dad finally works close enough to the house that he could conceivably walk to his office if needed. (Though it’s still several miles.)
Why do I bring this up? I’ve seen several fics featuring the idea that Bitty’s mother tells him to just take “the car” while he’s showing Jack around, because she won’t need it for a few days, or some other indication that the Bittles only have one vehicle. If Bitty takes Suzanne’s only car for multiple days, she’ll have no way to get anywhere: work, the grocery store for more butter, any other basic daily errand…
I’d also like to address the idea that both Bittles automatically drive pickup trucks. While I buy the idea that Coach, as a high school football coach who needs to haul gear around regularly, may indeed drive a truck, I have a much harder time imagining this of Suzanne. Given Coach’s clearly busy schedule with the football team, it undoubtedly would have fallen to Suzanne to take Bitty to all of his figure skating and hockey practices and competitions. I can definitely see her driving an SUV, so as to have room for figure skating costumes and/or hockey gear in the back, but definitely not a pickup. Pickups are for people who regularly haul things that can be exposed to the elements. If we’re going with stereotypes, think “soccer mom” rather than “everyone in the South automatically drives a truck.”
Also, given the amount of driving the average resident of the Southeast does, I have to say I really appreciated idrilka’s characterization of Bitty and Suzanne as fast, confident drivers in “maybe i’m waking up.” While we know Bitty didn’t take a car to Samwell with him, his parents likely encouraged him to get his license right at 16, so as to be able to take himself to practices. (Certainly I know I drove my parents crazy by not really caring about getting my license and putting it off to 18. They wanted their lives back from taxi service, understandably.)
And one final note about Southerners driving in winter weather: It’s not that we find snow that intimidating to drive in so much as that if there’s significant snow sticking to the roads down here, it’s because they’re coated with a solid sheet of ice underneath. Every time it snows enough here to cause wrecks, most of the people interviewed by local news crews as they wait for their cars to get towed out of a ditch are transplants from the north who thought they knew what they were doing. When I was in grad school in Michigan, I regularly drove to work over several inches of snow with no problem other than needing to clean off the windshield, but now that I live in NC again, I won’t drive anywhere more than about 10 minutes away if there’s ice on the road, because there’s so many hills the risk of getting the car stuck sliding back on an incline at a stoplight is significant.
The East Coast
A short but incredibly annoying thing: people who think the phrase “East Coast” only applies to the states in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions. Y’all, if it’s a state that touches the Atlantic Ocean, the people who live there consider it to be on the East Coast. There is absolutely no way Bitty would ever think of his move to MA as “a move to the East Coast.” He already lived on the East Coast, he just moved further north.
A lot further north, actually. In case other people have the same problem I do with remembering how far north Massachusetts is, some perspective. When my parents lived in Boston for grad school, they used to split their drives to NC into two days by stopping to stay with my aunt and uncle in New Jersey. Because New Jersey is enough further south to make it a reasonable breaking point. O.O
Helpful driving times (excluding construction/traffic jams, which you’re pretty much guaranteed to hit around DC):
- Boston, MA to Madison, GA: 15 hrs 56 mins (I-95 w/tolls), 16 hrs 31 mins (I-85 w/o tolls)
- Providence, RI to Madison, GA: 15 hrs 23 mins (I-95 w/tolls), 16 hrs (I-85 w/o tolls)
Okay, yes, this is just a weird one, but it’s a thing. “Barbecue” in the Southeast is used much more frequently as a noun than a verb. It refers to a specific style of meat. Depending on where you’re from, it could mean pork, chicken, or beef, but it’s referring to the meat itself. “Let’s go get some barbecue.” (See Wikipedia’s overview article on the different types of US barbecue. Eastern NC-style is clearly the best, just sayin’.)
When we refer to cooking meat outside, the verb we use is “to grill.” In other places, people may refer to “barbecuing in the backyard,” but it’s definitely not used that way in North Carolina. My brother, who now lives in a suburb of Atlanta that’s approx. an hour from Madison, confirms that it’s not a Georgia thing either: “Typically I’ve only heard foreign people use it that way.” (By which he may be referring to his semester in Australia or possibly some Latin American colleagues using a more literal translation of asado.)
This is hardly an exhaustive post, just some things I’d noticed as I was reading that particularly stuck out to me, so people should feel free to leave comments about things I left out, especially Georgia-specific things.