Say It Right!

  • By PEGGY MCKEE BARNHILL
  • Sunday, April 29, 2018 8:43am
  • Neighbors

When the kids were small we used to read them bedtime stories — often the same story night after night until all of us had memorized every single word. As mischievous parents, we would sometimes change the words, just to spice things up. Instead of reading, “I do not like green eggs and ham,” we might say, “I do not like clean legs of lamb.” The kids never failed to notice, and it would drive them crazy. I can still hear their indignant chorus: “Read it right!”

Sometimes I feel like those kids, when I hear the things people say. People speak in regional dialects or generational patterns, or they simply get lazy in their speech. That’s when I want to call out, “Say it right!”

My family members were taking an online quiz recently that purported to pinpoint your home state from your word usage. One of the deciding factors was the way you used the second person plural. When referring to more than one person, would you say “you,” “you all,” “y’all,” “yinz,” or “you guys?” I lived in Pittsburgh for a bit, but “yinz” did not rub off on me. My Florida upbringing leads me to say “y’all,” or even for emphasis, “all y’all.” Really. But after 20-some years in Alaska, I do feel the pressure to “say it right,” so you might hear me say “you guys” as an acceptable alternative.

I say “bucket” (not “pail”), “faucet” (not “spigot”), and my natural choice would be “traffic circle” except for the fact that I actually drive through a “roundabout” every day on my way to work. When I was in high school I would “skip” class to go to Dunkin’ Donuts (shh, don’t tell my mom). Today’s students “ditch.” In my day, you ditched a person, not a class, like when the swim team members all went out for pizza after the meet and my ride left while I was in the bathroom. There’s a reason why girls go to the bathroom in flocks — they don’t want to get ditched.

Another curious usage I’ve noticed lately has to do with the completion of high school. I would say that I graduated from high school in 1980, but today if I achieved my 15 minutes of fame you might read in the news story about me that I graduated high school in 1980. Write it right!

Then there are some words that have delightfully different meanings. Take the word “virus,” for example. In medical terms a virus can make you sick, and a computer virus can give you a massive headache. But you might love to have one of your social media posts go viral, unless it shows you in a less-than-flattering light. A viral post or video could change your life, for better or for worse. You could end up on late night television, or you could find yourself in the unemployment line. Too bad there’s no vaccine for going viral.

Then there’s the word “text.” In the old days, text consisted of a bunch of written words, usually in a book. Remember textbooks? Text was some kind of weighty prose—something you could learn from. Not anymore. Today we talk by text, mostly because it’s faster than making a phone call. People say, “I talked to so-and-so,” while wiggling their thumbs as if they’re playing air-Nintendo. The thumb-wiggling is a sign to those in the know that the conversation took place via text message. If the fingers are wiggling as well, then the exchange took place over email. Funny that no one says, “I wrote to so-and-so” or even, “I texted so-and-so.” Say it right!

Finally, there is the all-important question of what you call your athletic shoes. Are they running shoes, gym shoes, tennis shoes, sneakers, trainers, or runners? When I took the online quiz and answered “sneakers,” I noticed that only a small portion of the country would choose that term. Hmm. Of course, I didn’t have the option of choosing “bobos,” which is my term for flat-soled sneakers like Keds or Vans. I wonder if anyone else wore bobos when they were kids?

Say it right!


• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother and debut author who writes cozy mysteries under the name “Greta McKennan.” Her first novel, Uniformly Dead, is available at Hearthside Books. She likes to look at the bright side of life.


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