Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Carrie, Kerry

Way back when Middled was just getting on its feet (feet that it soon will find again), my friend, Edan, wrote a great post about some of her more mystifying encounters with the local dialects of eastern Iowa. Edan is from Los Angeles, where people talk like TV and don’t say the word “bag” as if it rhymed with “leg.”

When I first read about Edan’s encounters with this particular Midwestern tongue, I found her observations incredibly funny. I couldn’t believe Iowans said, “can of corn” when they meant, “easy as pie,” or that they scoffed at “supermarket” as an alternative to “grocery store.” By the end of the post, I was quietly cackling at my neighbors just a few hours to the north.

The following January, I met my girlfriend, Danielle, a native Philadelphian, and eventually moved to her city. We got along pretty well and seemed to understand each other, despite some difference in our accents. One of her co-workers pointed out that I looked “very Midwestern” in my plaid shirt and Danielle was disturbed that one of my favorite childhood desserts was something called, “Mother’s Good Stuff,” but she was impressed by my city’s arch and I respected her bell.

We moved into a crappy sublet for the summer with no closets and plywood floors freshly coated with gray latex paint. By August, our bathroom towel racks, toilet paper holder and two IKEA shelves had all torn away from the porridgy drywall and crashed to the floor. We were miserable in the heat, but couldn’t open the front windows because we lived on the first floor. We dreaded going home, even if it was just to pack our swimsuits and a few t-shirts for our weekends in New Jersey. But we were happy.

Looking back, I recognize the early signs of trouble that seemed so innocent at the time, even funny.

The first bump in the road was a preposition. As surprised as I was to discover that Philadelphia is just an hour’s drive from the Atlantic Ocean, I was more confused by the response I got when I told people we were heading “to the shore.”

Danielle kindly corrected me. “Down the shore,” she explained, is the appropriate phrasing.

“Down to the shore?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

For me, this was a time of discovery. One morning, while eating a bagel at our dining room table for two, I found myself mesmerized by the label on a container of cream cheese. The epiphany broke like a levee.

“Philadelphia!” I shouted. “Huh.”

During this period, Danielle was also discovering things about me. For instance, I guess that I say, “proaly,” instead of, “probably,” as if I were drunk. I am also inclined to overuse the word, “booya.” As in, “Booya! This pasta is cooked perfectly.” Or when I give someone a gift that they really like. I’m not sure if there is any cultural explanation for this, but my sister seems to say it even more.

I’ve noticed that Danielle sometimes says “horrible” as if the first syllable rhymed with “bar,” but who isn’t susceptible to the decline of language in our modern age?

In February, we traveled to St. Louis to visit Danielle’s sister, Joanna, who lives in Jefferson City, where I’m sure her pristine eastern speech is constantly assaulted by backwater idioms and inflections. Danielle’s mom, Jean, and another sister, Sarah, went with us, which provided a nice opportunity for them to meet my parents and for us compare the more distinct dialects of the generation before us.

In the end, it was too hard to decide whether my dad’s, “Let me warsh the dishes,” was funnier than Jean’s, “Could I have a glass of wuder?”

This kind of linguistic comparison makes for great conversation and enables florid displays of regional pride, just like laughing at a British person for calling a popsicle an “ice lolly.”

Danielle and I have learned to accept each other’s speech, or to at least live with it until long-term cohabitation brings us into alignment. The one point I’m still stuck on, though, is a pair of names.

In 2004, John Kerry lost the presidential election. In 2005, Carrie Underwood won American Idol. To my ear, Kerry and Carrie and perfect homonyms, meaning that I would say them in exactly the same way. Danielle, on the other hand, who happens to have a friend with the last name Kerry and works with a woman named Carrie, has a different take.

Apparently, I say Kerry correctly, but should try to say the word, “curry,” as if my tongue has just been injected with Novocain when addressing a Carrie.

For love and the purpose of assimilation, I’m willing to try.

Thursday, April 9, 2009


If you were recently wondering why Barack Obama, having been elected months ago, still hadn’t taken down his campaign posters, then you noticed Pepsi’s re-branding campaign. With a suspiciously cynical flare, the great cola maker tweaked the sunrise logo and slapped it into the word “HOPE,” promising to “refresh America.”

Other companies were also grasping for presidential coattails. IKEA swiftly proclaimed that “Change starts at home,” while Southwest Airlines introduced its “Yes You Can” sale in late January, which was slightly less endearing than the new Ben and Jerry’s flavor, Yes Pecan!

I guess advertisers can’t be blamed for following success, but Pepsi has taken its pandering beyond the bounds of taste. In search of other stimulating words that happen to contain the letter O, Coca-Cola’s syrupy sweet stepsister must’ve really extended its marketing research department to come up with “Ho Ho Ho” and “Wow.”

They even considered regional demographics, navigating the complexities of culture and dialect, which is probably why, on our way to the Wal-Mart superstore in Rolla, Missouri, my grandfather and I spotted the following billboard.

And also why, on my way to work, every day for the past three months, I’m reminded that I live in an urban environment, where urban people are just as easily pegged as any hick from Missouri.