Quote of the Day:
“I have suffered from being misunderstood, but I would have suffered a hell of a lot more if I had been understood.” –Clarence Darrow
TB had the subject of thick southern accents come up the other day. I think a well executed southern accent is a beautiful sound, educated, refined, yet collegial. Unfortunately I have one of those thick, over the top, and slurry versions of the dialect that makes calling in a pizza delivery an ordeal. At times I can control it. At least I think I can.
Back in 2002, I was called upon to try a case for two companies involved in asbestos litigation. Fortunately, my clients were peripheral defendants in the case, meaning the plaintiff’s lawyers had bigger targets with deeper pockets and thus paid little attention to us. But in a trial, many things can happen that can move a seemingly safe client right into the bullseye in a heartbeat. So I was fully prepared to defend the case. I was psyched up for battle. I attempted to cover every angle that could present a threat to my clients. One of the things that occurred to me was that my particular accent might alienate the Judge and jury. So while preparing my opening statements I took great care to speak like a TV anchorman, as best I could.
At the appointed time I rose confidently and strode with a smile toward the jury box. I greeted the Judge and jury. I introduced my clients and explained where they were from. I made a little joke–you know the kind preachers make that are church-funny but not funny-funny? In the same way, lawyers cannot really tell gut busters in court, but we can tell jokes that are court-funny but not funny-funny. I emphasized how little they would be hearing from me because we weren’t really involved in all these high stakes arguments being made by the other lawyers. My clients were just a couple of small town shops and I was their respectful-of-the-big-city country lawyer. There were no missing “g”s. My enunciation was pronounced. Contractions were eschewed. There were no colorful colloquialisms. I channeled Tom Brokaw and before I turned back to my table I thought a couple of the jurors might have given me signs they approved of what I had to say and how I said it. As I sat I noticed that several of the high dollar California lawyers even nodded appreciatively at my effort. It felt good.
Shortly after my successful opening we broke for lunch. A dozen or so defense lawyers gathered in the cafeteria. These were guys mostly from L.A. and San Francisco who had their names on the letterhead above hundreds of attorneys. Conversely, I was a decade or more younger and had my name last at an eight person firm in the seventh largest town in Mississippi. Once again, I patted myself on the back and attacked my sandwich in quiet self-satisfaction. One of the lead lawyers sat down by me. “Good job this morning,” he said. “Thanks,” I replied, knowing it. Brokaw had nothing on me. The guy continued, “I’m not sure about the Judge, but I think that corn-pone thing really went over well with the jury.”
As the suddenly unappetizing sandwich dropped unceremoniously and unheeded to my tray, I stared blankly into space.
Funny. You should have got up and leaned over in his ear and whispered “Saying such things may fly where you are from, but out here in the country it is more likely to get a mudhole stomped in your ass. Friendly advice. Good day sir.” Then put on your sunglasses and walked away.
That cracked me up. Especially after I looked up the definition of corn-pone. I’ve never heard that before.
What an ASS! Being a southern girl I find a well educated southern accept absolutely charming. Also, I find that my accent varies according to company – I can be all upper-crust southern one minute and backwoods southern the next. I’m versatile that way.
TB…..that was funny, son…..you must be feelin a little better…..this blog was beginnin to bore the shit out of me…..but THAT was like a movie scene….hahahaha
Q, I thought my recap of deals w/the devil through history was pretty good; glad you liked this tho.
It’s funny that Calico and Mac got my back on this regarding the infamous comment. I should’ve made clear the guy thought he was being complimentary and he was definitely sincere. One thing I left out–a paralegal from our office was sitting across the table and she nearly had Coke come out her nose from sudden laughter. I also would like you to picture Phil Hartman doing “unfrozen caveman lawyer” if you recall that bit–an uncomfortably close caricature of ol’ TB in opening statements that day.
Barista–you’d be surprised how many times I’ve told that story and had people say “what’s corn pone?” I’m not sure I ever really knew, but at the moment I knew what he was talking about somehow.
Very good post – I would like to have been there for that accent. I would love to know who the paralegal was since I know most of them.
I once had to work at a big lawfirm – Skadden/Arps in New York City doing a document production in asbestos for Met Life. The little Harvard educated man I spent the day working with did not know what to make of me, southern accent included, and he felt he was quite superior. My use of sarcasm and wit was way over Harvard Lawyer boy’s head and my boss was quite amused and impressed.
Your posts have been anything but boring – sickness and all. But your stories are always the best.
Liz, you can imagine her reaction I’m sure.
TB has come out of the funk flu blazin in 2010…..let me get a Nature Boy WOOOOOOOOO!
Yes, I can see it now. I heard a comment about your first employer the other day and what a legend she was in the divorce courtroom. I was able to namedrop you into that conversation and I think it was impressive. 🙂
boring’s in the eye of the beholder
I don’t have a problem ordering pizza with my accent, but calling into nationwide customer service centers is just awful. The overly-friendly computer systems have absolutely no idea what I am saying, so I now just sit there not pushing any buttons and not saying anything hoping that the HAL-wannabe will eventually decide that I have a rotary phone and am a complete moron and will eventually default to getting a live person on the line. Unfortunately, that person usually resides in India and can’t understand me either.
Try talking to the On Star computer with my accent. I would like to see a video of me trying to make a call. After the sixth attempt, I generally give up.
There is very little upside to southern drawl. People hear it and automatically think the person is less intelligent. Hell, we do it when we hear a good ole boy from the country.
Yes, but if they do make the mistake of thinking you are stupid due to your accent, then you have the upper hand. You being a general term of course. The joke would be on them, unless, of course you really are stupid and that has nothing to do with your accent.
There sure has been a bunch of national political leaders voted into office with that accent.
I had to look up corn-pone too! Hilarious story. I really like southern accents…I bet I would sound more interesting with one. A company that I once worked for had their corporate office in South Carolina and their division office in Alabama…I loved talking with my contacts there. However, a lot of them liked to call and listen to me answer the phone…I guess it was REALLY funny to make a call to California and have someone named Harmony answer the phone. They called me “valley girl”..I hated that! So yeah..I’d like to have a southern accent.
Harmony – I once lived in California for about a year. I can remember being in the Ralph’s Grocery Store and the check out girl could not understand me at all. Worse still I thought I won something on a lottery ticket and I went into the little Asian Market next to my apartment to find out. Unfortunately I did not win and I could not understand what the sweet little old man was saying to me. He finally said, “You no win, you leave store, no come back!” Needless to say that would not be a problem as I was so embarrassed at our accent gap and my stupidity. It was an interesting year of my life. I got a lot of questions about the South.
JL ~ Where in California did you live?
I am the worst, when it comes to not understanding someone. I have this weird encoded rule, about asking “what?” more than 3 times. I cannot do it. By the 4th time, if I still have no idea what the person is trying to say to me, I just say “okay”. Which has had some interesting results. I’ve been working on not doing that anymore. LOL!
My address was actually in La Palma but right across the street it was Buena Park. I worked for an oral surgeon next to a hospital where we would eat lunch. It took forever to get people that worked there to speak to me – I would always say “Hi, how are you?” and they would look at me like I was an alien. The girl I worked with who was from there said they just weren’t used to someone speaking to them like that – it just wasn’t done. She thought it was funny but in the end I got her doing it too.
JL ~ I can’t imagine not talking to someone, who has directly spoken to me…how rude can people get?! I love that your niceness rubbed off on your co-worker though. I bet it improved her days greatly!
It was different. Once I got people talking they were fascinated trying to figure out where I was from – Mississippi was never on their radar. Texas was the usual guess. That was a long time ago – 1987-1988.
Do you mind saying where you are?
We live between two farming towns called Live Oak and Gridley, although we are closer to Live Oak our address is in Gridley. We are about an hour and a half north of Sacramento and a half hour south of Chico (not sure if you heard of either of them).
I have heard of Chico and Sacramento but not the other two – I’ll have to educate myself a bit. This is where you grew up?
The other two are just small farming towns. In fact, Live Oak is a one light town. I was raised about 3o minutes South East of here…but I was born in New Hampshire. We moved to California when I was 5 or 6.
Wow! You were transplanted at a young age from East to West. Irvine Redd had a similar experience – we lived from Louisiana, Texas to California before we plopped back down on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi when he was 5 years old. He lost his cajun accent within about 3 months.