The May 18 Bluefield Daily Telegraph column by Larry Hypes informing us about speech and writing history inherent to our region was an enjoyable read. You can take the person out of the country, but never completely remove the country from the person, not even with the help of the most learned educators.
The same can be said about the dialect and slang coal miners use. Probably like most industries, we have a language and vocabulary only mining folks would understand. How peculiar is it to hear a discussion about mountain bumps, sloughing ribs, coal bursts, tailpieces, dog bones or many other terms used around coal mines? Your baby may sleep in a crib, but you never witnessed a crib squeeze under heavy roof unless employed underground. Ever worked a section on a ride, observed heaving bottom, or rock dusted the face? I could go on but I think you get it. For those of you that never worked a longwall mine, dog bones are used to connect the pan line. Understand?
Words and people that have the gift to turn a phrase always astound me. Perhaps one of the best was Yankees legend, Yogi Berra. He once told his team to “Pair up in threes.” He lamented that “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.” Played a game and said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” He complained, “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.” And he wisely advised, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Bragged about his team, “We were overwhelming underdogs.” And admitted about his many quotes, “I never said most of the things I said.” Language had no boundaries for the great Yogi Berra.
There are authors that can weave the fabric of dialogue into stories that capture the soul of a time gone by. There was none better, in my view, than Mark Twain and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” Twain did not worry about grammar with Huck, thank goodness, as witnessed by this quote I Googled (sorry, Mr. Hypes). “Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.” Well said, Huckleberry, or should I say Mr. Twain, a.k.a. Samuel Clemens.
Admittedly, I have listened to many songs because I liked the artists or the music without really focusing on the message in the words. It was years before I realized Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” was written by Ronnie Van Zant to support Neil Young’s anti-racism song, “Sothern Man,” although it was seen as a rebuke of Young’s southern generalities and stereotypes. Read this stanza in reference to the dislike of Governor George Wallace and President Nixon. Van Zant, supposedly, meant don’t blame the south for Wallace and we will not blame the north for Nixon.
“In Birmingham they love the Gov’nor, boo-boo-boo. Now we all did what we could do.
Now Watergate does not bother me. Does your conscience bother you, tell the truth.”
Yes, Mr. Hypes, words, dialect, language and grammar around the dinner table, in the work place, sporting events, written in books or song lyrics can reveal more about us than we intend at times, even words submitted in “letters to the editor.” I have an irrational dislike of our president and use harsh language that causes hard feelings with relatives and friends at times who support Trump. I can’t explain it but I can offer this Huckleberry Finn quote, “I couldn’t bear to think about it; and yet, somehow I couldn’t think about nothing else.” My frustration with the president is best explained by Huck.
In the last Harry Potter movie, Potter must decide his fate at a crossroad between life and death. During his discussion with Professor Dumbledore, the professor offers this sage advice about words, “Words are in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.” So true, JK Rowling, so true.
I end with this imagery from Samantha Perry, “I loved the feel of the dew as it began to settle on the blades of grass and the sight of the lightning bugs as they made their way into the night sky.” Beautiful!
Don V. Hylton