Thursday, August 18, 2005

how now brown cow

Last night I learned that I have a Philadelphia dialect. This is something quite shocking to hear. Like someone telling you, "It's so cute how you wear your underwear outside your pants. Do they do that where you're from?" Well, something like that anyway. So we were sitting in this guy's living room, which was totally trashed, with shit everywhere on the floor and in piles on all the furniture so that we had to sit crouching or clean off a clean spot on the floor before daring to settle our asses down. They were in the process of moving out so it was understandable but then his girlfriend says to us, "Hey you guys mind not ashing on the floor?" That's when you do a doubletake and look around and wonder if you're talking about the same room.

Wait, where was I? Right, so as I was saying, this guy tells my friend, who is also from Philly, that she just said something that only people from Philly say, but that it is actually a grammatical flaw. She had said something like "Is she finished her shower?" Subtle huh? More examples: Are you done your homework? Are you finished dinner yet? Can you hear what's wrong? Well I totally couldn't. Apparently, if you're not from the Philadelphia region this will sound very wrong to you, even if you don't know technically why, but it sounds perfectly fine to me. To my reaction he responded in his expert self-assured neuroscientist's way "Exactly". I tried to protest, "But we're not really from Philly, we're from the suburbs outside of Phillly." "Doesn't matter." Wow, the dialect is like a dominant gene or something. Even if you're an immigrant, living in the outlying suburbs, her amongst Japs, me amongst Wasps, you still can't get away from it. So there I was, realizing I had been wearing my underwear outside my pants the whole time without knowing any better. What other atrocities had I been committing unwittingly? Well here are some other juicy Phillyisms, which I may or may not do myself but have certainly heard other people say:

This word is used commonly in phrases such as "I sall that new movie last night." (I don't do this but, cough cough, I know people who do.)

As in "Are you shore you want to go through with it?" (I definitely do this.)

As in "Youse better shut up already." (My next door neighbor used to say this.)

As in "Come auwn and shut up already". (Everyone who is really from Philly says this.)

As in "I don't smoke anymore." (Apparently this isn't a real word in England and was originally coined in the Philly area though it's more commonly used nowadays all over America.)

As in "Hey get away from that cookie, it's mayan!" (Again my next door neighbor.)

The Philadelphia dialect is actually pretty hard on the ears. Hard to imitate but a deep Philly accent is unmistakable. Then there's the South Philly distinctions that we won't go into here. I'm not embarassed to be from Philly or even speak like a Philadelphian actually. It's sort of heartwarming to know that you can leave a place and still have parts of it linger with you, identifiably even to other people, that ties you to a place so clearly and irrevocably. I love the special quirks of any place--like the hoagies and scrapple that you only get in Philly--but sometimes you forget that your hometown doesn't just seep into your memory but that you wear it with you always every time you open your mouth.

More examples to see if you speak like you are from Philly are here and here.

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