Friday, March 11, 2005

Piecing Around and other Midwestern Sayings

Last weekend, while talking to a good friend on the phone that now lives in St. Louis, she asked me what I would be fixing for lunch on Sunday. “Oh, I’ll fix a big dinner, but we’ll probably just piece around until then.”
“Piece around?” she asked.
“Yeah, you know, just snack.”
“I know what it means, I just can’t believe I’ve found someone else who uses that expression too.”
She went on to explain that when she’s used that expression in St. Louis, friends have laughed at her and asked what she means. We chuckled at that notion since it has been a part of our vocabulary for as long as we can remember.
Both of us being native Kansans, I told her, “Must be a Kansas thing.”
We here in the Midwest don’t like to think we have a twang. Little hairs stand up when we meet someone from New York who asks, “Where in the South are you from?” I even had a boss from New York ask me where the cattle crossings were when I was showing her the city during her first visit to “the open range.” Having a Southern accent is a matter of perspective, I guess, depending on where in the United States you’re from. I’m convinced that everyone on the East Coast considers anyone west of New York “Southern.”
I once knew a native North Carolinian who bristled every time we told her she had a southern accent. “North Carolina is north to Southerners,” she would tell us.
But we too, think Southerners have a more distinct twang. I always laugh when heading down to our cabin an hour into Arkansas because as soon as we cross the state line from Missouri, I have trouble understanding the store clerks.
Being a native Kansas Citian-a Dotte, as we’re now proudly calling ourselves in our corner of the Metro, I never really noticed dialect or twang until I was in my 20’s and working for a J.C. Penney call center, which drew employees from all over the region and the United States.
It was easy to joke with a woman from Minn-e-s-O-ta.
Of course, the out-of-towners made fun of us as well. The first time I called our refrigerator an “ice box,” I drew guffaws for week.
“Did the ice man come today?” one person would ask each morning.
My parents came from an age where the ice man did come to fill the ice box everyday and I just grew up calling it that, its seems easier to say than “refrigerator” anyway.
Another thing that drew a lengthy discussion at the call center about dialect was the word, “divan,” or “couch.” Some people, depending on where they come from call it a “sofa,” or some even still call it a “davenport.”
My dad was a native Southerner. He used to pronounce “Light bulb” as “Light bub,” something we thought was pretty funny, but he failed to see the humor. “Sacks” were also “pokes” and “everyone” was “y’all” around our house.
Growing up, I took on part Midwestern dialect and part Southern, which I blame for some of my lazy pronunciation. I pronounce my husbands name, Dale, as “Dell.” My poor great aunt was confused until the day she passed as to what his name was-she asked me is it “Dale” or “Dell?” every time we saw her. And a friend recently pointed out to me she thought I was saying “Dell.” I’m not the only one who does this and at this point, he’ll answer to just about anything anyway, so why should I change after 26 years?
Of course, English words can mean different things to people in England and Australia, as we learned when we hosted our first exchange student back in the 1970’s. We took her to a baseball game and she was terribly embarrassed that we were “rooting” for the home team. In Australia, that doesn’t mean cheering! There are so many words and expressions that are different, my Australian daughter, Meg, even gave me a book defining the differences between American English and Australian English words.
Only once do I remember ever offending anyone with an expression I learned in my neighborhood. As a young woman, while bantering with black friend at work, who was from the South, I used the expression “Boy.” His demeanor quickly changed and later, he asked me if I knew what that meant to a Southern black man. I didn’t, it was a phrase we used in the neighborhood all of the time-and it didn’t have anything to do with race-or even gender-it was just a phrase we used with everyone like “man” or “you guys.” When he explained it to me, I, of course, never used it again.
Speech patterns in the East can sound just as strange to us. When my mother and sister traveled to the extreme Northeastern states, they had a heck of a time understanding directions containing the word “Peabody,” which there is pronounced, “pee-bid-ee” and said extremely fast.
Some Easterners dropping the “r’s” at the end of words perplexes me as much as my “Dell” does some from the East, so when I meet people from the East coast who ask me what part of the south I’m from, I just go ahead and tell them “Kansas City.” Sometimes they smile, getting that their perspective of a southern accent is of course, different than ours.
But if they ever ask me again about the cattle crossings, I’ll tell them, “Y’all better watch out, you can encounter one of them there cows on the road just about anywhe-ah.”


Blogger Terri said...

I've used the term "piecing around" pretty much all my life. I learned it from my mom. :) I was born in W.Va. but have pretty much lived up and down the east coast including time spent in Louisiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin. I've learned all sorts of phrases, some of which draw odd looks, depending on who I'm talking to. :)

10:31 AM CST  
Blogger Redundant Redactor said...

Don't know much about "piecing around," but I have heard "going overtown" used here in the KC metro area. And I've heard "soda pop" here, as opposed to just "soda" in some places and "pop" in others. I thought your essay was very entertaining and right on target.

9:20 PM CST  
Blogger hooper2 said...

When I lived in Texas, a common phrase I heard was "I'm fixin' to go shopping or "I'm fixin' to go to the game." Growing up in Missouri, I thought this was strange as I thought you fixed dinner, fixed a bicycle, etc.

I guess this local dialect simply adds color to our daily lives!

2:41 PM CST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found your blog exclusively because I was trying to find someone saying something about piecing, meaning snacking. My grandparents, native Idahoans - pretty far removed from Kansas or anywhere in the midwest - always said 'piecing,' though never 'piecing around,' and warned us against it anytime we were coming to their place for dinner.


Justin Allen

9:52 AM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

im from the northeast - boston -and we do talk wicked fast and pronounce things wicked weird..for example, the chocolate sprinkles that go on ice cream are jimmies. i was in california and asked if they had any and everyone looked at me like i was crazy. oh, and everywhere, a rotary is a 'roundabout'. i have no idea what my gps is talking about when she says 'roundabout'

9:57 AM CDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We like having debates on when to use "y'all" or "all y'all" in Texas.

1:33 PM CDT  
Blogger Blended said...

I just posted about learning a new "language" when I moved from the East Coast to the midwest!

6:17 AM CDT  

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