Tips for Talking Texan

It’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday again! It’s also conference season, and many writers are busy preparing for their trip, classes, pitches, or table-dancing performance. Since we’ll have some non-Texans attending the DFW Writers’ Conference, I thought it was a good time to re-run a post from May of last year. In case you’ll be in the Lone Star State anytime soon, or you just want to decipher want the heck we’re all saying down here, here are my Tips for Talking Texan.

In a prior post, I said that I enjoy mimicking accents, though I am not fluent in any foreign languages.  But I should qualify that some people think my native tongue of Texan is a foreign language.  In fact, an ad for the Texas Tourism Bureau has had a slogan for years to promote travel to the Lone Star state:  “It’s like a whole other country.”

Now I don’t believe I have a strong drawl and, with concentration, I can eliminate it from my speech almost entirely.  But put me in a herd of fellow born-and-bred Texans or get me super-excited about something, and I twang like a dueling banjo.  If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to speak Texan, here are a few pointers from me:

1.  Take It Easy.  First of all, Hollywood totally overdoes it.  DO NOT try to sound like J.R. from Dallas.  If you do, you should get shot.

2.  Use Y’all.  The proper plural of “you” is “y’all.”  It’s the perfect contraction of “you” and “all,” which comes in handy when distinguishing a single Dallas Cowboy cheerleader from the whole scantily-clad cheer squad or one particular misbehaving child from the group of rambunctious hellions.

3.  Be polite.  Our language is infused with Southern courtesy and superfluous manners.  I was downright flummoxed by Senator Barbara Boxer getting her granny panties in a wad over a Brigadier General Michael Walsh calling her “ma’am.”  That’s a compliment and a sign of respect down here.  My children had better not say to some teacher, “Yeah”; they are expected to answer, “Yes, ma’am.”

This goes along with other seemingly over-the-top courtesies, like saying “Hi” or “Howdy” to people you don’t know (you can’t walk the Texas A&M campus without being greeted that way); having a store clerk invite you to “Come back” – meaning you should return to shop sometime in the future, not turn around because you’re being accused of shoplifting; and waving at drivers in other cars if they allow you to pull ahead or pass (okay, that’s not spoken language, but it is communication).

4.  Tex-Mex It.  Throw in words borrowed from Spanish.  Texas has, after all, been under Six Flags in its history – one-third of those being Spanish-speaking nations (Spain and Mexico).  We also have a wonderful population of citizens with Hispanic, or Latino if you prefer, heritage –many of whom are bilingual.  And we sure do like our Tex-Mex food.  (You would too!)  Try out a few like Spanish words like these:  “Everything” becomes “the whole enchilada.”  “Goodbye” is “Adios, muchachos.”  And “Stop parking on your lawn like a hillbilly!” becomes “Loco!”

5.  Channel your Inner Texan.  Mostly though, what you need to remember is to spread your mouth wide, add a syllable or two when there is a long vowel (“lamb” becomes “lā-ă-ĕmb”), and channel your inner Dixie Chick. 

Lyle Lovett, a native, has a great song called That’s Right, You’re Not from Texas, with the next lyrics being “but Texas wants you anyway.”  We’re happy to have anybody identify themselves with the Lone Star State, so take this opportunity to practice a down-south drawl and be an Honorary Texan for a spell. 

Meanwhile, I enjoy hearing accents from all the regions of our union.  Where are you from?  Do you have a strong accent or not?  What are the particular idiosyncrasies of your area’s rendering of English?

24 thoughts on “Tips for Talking Texan

  1. You can often tell what quadrant of Ohio people are from by their accent. Clevelanders often have a good bit of New England, those from the NW a little less so, similar to Detroit. SE Ohio gets into Appalacia, so you hear that sort of Southern drawl (but not usually as thick as those from farther south). SW has a little of that – many of us or our families are from Kentucky – but most of us just have the plain, bland accent TV newscasters are taught to speak in. Fun post! And the conference sounds fantastic.

    1. How fascinating, Jennette! My mom is from Ohio, and there are still a few words she says that show where she’s from (and make us Texas daughters chuckle). Thanks for sharing.

  2. Okay, after reading this, I hope you take it as a compliment that I started saying “y’all” after joining online writing groups 3 years ago. There are a lot of people who live in Texas who are writers and I just love some of the Southern language. One of my son’s friends always says “ma’am” and now I know it’s a polite thing to say. I always love the way it sounds – respectful.

    1. Yes, it’s a compliment, Patti! Converts to the Y’all Camp are welcome. 🙂

      I have heard that people from other parts of the country think that saying “ma’am” or “sir” indicates impersonal speaking or age, but it doesn’t work that way where I am. I call the 20-something drive-thru employee “ma’am,” and nobody bats an eye. Like you say, it’s polite and respectful. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. This is such a fabulous post and I love this series, Julie! I’m from New York and I don’t think I have an accent, but I think part of that is because I try very hard to speak articulately. I do notice some differences in word choice though, compared to some friends who live out of state. I went to college in Pennsylvania and my friends from Central PA have a noticeable accent (they can’t hear it, but I can). They use different words too, and they’re questions have a different sort of inflection to them. It’s so interesting!

    One of my professors is from Texas, though he doesn’t have a strong drawl anymore. He always got a kick out of the fact that I called the last meal of the day “supper” instead of “dinner” like so many others around here do. Apparently that’s something he heard a lot in Texas but not in PA!

    1. I can kind of turn my accent on and off as needed. I practiced that just in case I ever get a spokesmodel or news anchor job. LOL.

      I grew up with the notion that dinner could be lunch or supper time, so supper is the last meal of the day. Thanks, Karen!

  4. I just talked for the second Watch Wednesday in as many weeks about the horrible Texas TV Twang! We really don’t sound like that y’all! 🙂

    I can’t wait to meet you, Julie!!! Really so excited about DFWcon.

    1. I know! TV shows are horrible about portraying us all as boot-scootin’ cowboys with drawls as long as a Texas summer. Eager to meet you too, Tiffany! I sure hope you have a little bit of an accent, though, to go with your big Texas smile. 🙂

  5. I hope to make it to Texas at some point, it’s one of the only states I have not been to 😦

    I’m from Michigan and I’m of the belief that I do not have an accent. Well, that was until sometime in college I found myself in Washington state teaching for a camp. Anyways, the girls at the camped loved to listen me talk and they’d giggle. I don’t remember what they found so funny, but I was a hit. 🙂

    My DH was in W. Virginia several years ago and had a heck of a time ordering a Coke. He asked for a Coke and they asked what kind…after his long pause she added, sprite or Pepsi? We’re still confused on that one. But,his body said that Coke was a term used there like soda or pop. Apparently it by itself isn’t enough information.

    1. I love listening to accents around the country. I don’t recall Michiganites (Michiginians?) having strong accents, but it’s all relative, isn’t it? And I indeed grew up in the world of every soda is a “Coke.” You asked for a Coke and then clarified whether you wanted that brand or another.

      1. Really? That’s awesome. So why is that? Is it b/c Coke is so awesome it simply identifies the whole<–cause that I can believe, I loves me some Coke, lol

        Anyways, are known to say Michiganites, but mostly it's Michiganians 🙂

        1. Thanks for the Michigan info. I didn’t know! I’m a huge Coca-Cola lover, so while I can’t explain the use of Coke for every drink I’m okay with it. My choice of Coke is usually Coke. 😉

      2. I just have to jump in here and give you guys a laugh – I was on a plane to Germany and the flight attendant came up to us to ask what we wanted to drink. I think I was a little nervous, because all I said was “soda.” Well, she gave me soda (which I thought was Sprite), which ended up being straight soda water. YUCK. I think I need to get in the habit of clarifying, just in case!

  6. I love me some Texan Southern DRAWL!! It’s fahhhbulous and seriously, I think deep down I was born in the south because I love to say “y’all” and any time I am down that way, I pick up the drawl like no body’s business and start adding syllables and dragging out words. I LOVE IT!
    Great post!

  7. I occasionally will say y’all and I’m not even from the south. It just sounds cool. I also say “eh” even though I’m not from Canada. Don’t ask me why and I’m totally not making fun of Canadians when I say it. I just love, love, love the word.

    All right, I’m from Utah. Here we tend to drop our “t” sounds. So when we say Mountain it sounds like Mounain. Fountain sounds like Founain. You get the gist. That’s all I can really think of right now. But, it’s a terrible habit. One of which I have to break. 😀

    1. I love “eh” as well. I think I might have picked that up, though, from Bob and Doug MacKenzie. 🙂

      Your Utah issue doesn’t sound terrible to me. I like practicing to turn off the accent if needed (like for your future interview on the Today Show), but then letting it go with your friends. Thanks, Julia!

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