Monday, December 15, 2008

Speaking of Mathews


This is another shot of an old place I photographed earlier this summer. I was driving down to New Point today and could not resist taking some more pictures of it. It's right near the New Point fire house.

As I’ve mentioned here before, Mathews—and its surrounding counties—has a unique dialect that traces its roots all the way back to Captain John Smith and 17th century England, the language of Shakespeare; the East Midland dialect. (The last 8 words of that sentence were not drawn from Chesapeake Bay Woman’s cob-webbed, detail-deficient brain, but rather from the book “Speaking of the Northern Neck” by Jackson Simmons).

Many of the words we use on a daily basis are now obsolete in England, or at least used differently. I'm not suggesting we're the only ones who say or use these words differently, but I'm saying that we probably have more folks using them on a regular basis than most other places. (One paragraph, four uses of the same word. Now up to five. Nice writing skills, Chesapeake Bay Woman.)

For example, in Mathews a “neck” is not just something that connects your head to your body, or something that gets wrenched out of alignment when your riding lawn mower hits a tree stump, rather it describes a relatively narrow, long piece of land, often one that juts out into water, similar to a peninsula. There’s the Northern Neck, Tick Neck and Lily’s Neck, all of which have nothing to do with body parts or potential lawn mower mishaps but are descriptors for specific places, similar to saying, "my neck of the woods."

There are other words that describe our surroundings--words that are no longer used this way in England: "run" as in Dragon Run (a spot at the end of the Piankatank River); "branch," as in, "The dog chased the rabbit down into the branch and came out muddy and wet." Or even how we use the word "creek" to describe very large bodies of water that most people would call rivers.

I’d like to recognize another saying here that most definitely can be traced back to the British due to how we say it: “Jesus Masters,” which is pronounced “Jesus Mawstuhs.” I can’t tell you how many times I heard my mother, my grandmother--and most recently a Gwynn’s Island friend--use this phrase with its unusual pronunciation, for example: “Jesus Mawstuhs, the cows have gotten loose again.” Or, “Jesus Mawstuhs, that Chesapeake Bay Woman just drones on and on and on and on. Can somebody teach her to write more concisely?” In other words, it is taking the Lord’s name in vain but with an unusual twist (with all due apologies, I am not advocating use of the saying, rather I am documenting an anthropological/linguistic/sociological/whatever artifact from this area). This saying--and its unusual pronunciation--is dying fast.

Other phrases such as “heard tell” are derived from the Bible (I don’t have a particular passage to illustrate this fact, but just trust me, I read this somewhere in that book referenced above). For example, “I heard tell that Chesapeake Bay Woman’s Christmas decorations look like something a five-year-old put up.” Or even, “I heard tell that fiddler crabs and ants have taken over Chesapeake Bay Woman’s house, and she’s been evicted.” And there’s always, “I heard tell that the interior lights in Chesapeake Bay Woman’s car are permanently stuck on, so that when she’s driving home in the dark she’s blinded and does not know how to get them to turn off.”

Chesapeake Bay Woman has only one response to all this stuff people have heard tell: “Jesus Mawstuhs.”

(Forgive me, please, it slipped out. I won’t ever say it again.)

21 comments:

Val said...

its a good one - i might use it!

Angela said...

Now it won`t die out as we will all be using it (with due respect, of course)! I am repeating myself, but you are so funny, good for my current state of mind, dear Chesapeake Lady!

Anonymous said...

Heard tell that people in the Midwest really enjoy reading your non-concise writing.

You can quote me on that :)

Sage said...

fascinating I love the way that language evolves and changes and gets used...

Anonymous said...

Devil fetch-it.

MMM

Anonymous said...

I lay in Hell ole' fella, she's mighty ca'm out here...

MMM

Grandma J said...

Now, I've heard most of those, but not in the same descriptive context ya'll use.
Of course, don't forget my roots are in New England so a whole lot of ancient words and phrases are scorched into my brain...not quite as colorful as yours

big hair envy said...

Jesus Mawstuhs! I heard tell that CBW was the funniest chick in the Northern Neck! I'm fixin' to go back to visit her so we can rustle some cattle, and bush hog some weeds. Do you think we could squeeze in a little boat ride?:) Heehee!!!

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

Love this - in another life I should have been a linguist, as I am fascinated by regional dialects.

Also? My own car has a quirk similar to your lights-on thing. When it's raining and I'm using the wipers, sometimes, they get stuck ON. Off doesn't work, intermittent doesn't work, they are just... ON. Add that to my non-working speedometer and I guess I'm quite the menace on the roads of Maryland. Jesus Mawstuhs!

Mental P Mama said...

Jesus Masters. I'm fixin to bust a gut.

Bear Naked said...

So do you also have an unusual accent to go along with your unusual vocabulary?
Oh by the way, the Pay it Forward is going to be delayed again.
It seems that the person who swore up and down to me that she ordered one part of your gift FORGOT to enter it into the computer so now I have to wait an additional two weeks.
Sorry CBW--

Bear((( )))

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Back from another grueling day of driving 50+ miles each way to and from work with blinding interior lights that will not shut off...this is getting ridiculous.

Val and Angela - Please do help spread its usage across the globe. It's not something you want to encourage the children to say, but there are certainly worse things that could be said. (And thanks, Angela, I am glad to help anyone's state of mind.)

Anonymous - You're too kind, thank you.

Sage - I love it too, and we sure do have one fascinating case study around here. Not only our local folks here in Mathews, but the Guineamen, who are just lovely folk, but who have a very unique pattern of speech, and a rather frightful reputation. Sometimes. Not always. I love Guinea. Really, I do. I have friends down Guinea. They're wonderful people, just lovely. Seriously. Hello, Guineamen! We love you. What would the place be like without you? Let's laugh nervously and never discuss this again.

MMM - You sound just like my high school boyfriend from Gwynn's Island who(m?) you know very well. I absolutely love hearing the watermen, it's like a strange song that just captures and enraptures you...I heard him say many a time, "I lay in hell yadda yadda yadda, fill in the blank with anything you want." Please keep adding to our growing list of soon-to-be-forgotten sayings. I truly appreciate the contributions.
I seem to recall your Mummma using "clippin' clear" an awful lot, as in, "It's blowin' a clippin' clear gale," or "He threw that fish a clippin' clear mile."

GJ - You need to write more about your New England roots. Especially if it involves Rita....

BHE - Jeemny Christmas, gal, you're speaking my language. We can do some bush hoggin' and then take a boat ride. (Just not in my boat, which is sinking. Canoe, anyone?)

Meg, I am so fed up with the daggone car....I just might write about the humiliating commute. The car is trying to kill me, I'm here to tell you.

MPM - You're gettin' the hang of it, be sure to use it when you visit us.

BN - YES! That's the best part of all, the local accent. It is heavenly to me, I can't explain it. The Guinemen have an even more interesting one....and we love them, one and all.

big hair envy said...

That's right girlfriend, keep covering your rear with the Guineamen.....they'll figure it out sooner or later. Probably later. Nonetheless, BE CAREFUL!

Jesus Mawstuhs! You don't want to get them on your bad side:D

BTW - I am fluent in "canoe". Did I ever tell you about the trip we once took down the Mattaponi River....?

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

BHE - I know of that which you warn. Of. Of which you warn. Of. I know what in hay you're talking about. Jesus Mawstuhs, I love those fine folk from Guinea! I'm serious as a heart attack.

And you must tell the canoe story...I have one myself from the James River, and it ain't pretty.

Auds at Barking Mad said...

OMG "Jesus Masters" and your pronunciation is EXACTLY what real old-timer Mainers say...amongst several other things. And that's the pronunciation too. Sometimes the old timers around here, or the island folk, especially the ones up Bar Harbor way (pronounced Bah Hawwbahh)can be really hard to understand. I actually have a harder time understanding some of the folk around here than I did those in Scotland, and up Manchester way in England - and they can be wicked hard to understand.

There's another part of the country, out on the one of the South Carolina islands whose inhabitants speak a direct dialect from somewhere in the UK but I can't remember where and I think it might be akin to Welsh but I'm not certain. Very hard to understand but wonderful to listen to. Just like the old-timers around here...sometimes I can't understand them, but its reminiscent of listening to my g'parents, who hail from Bangor and Orono, ME; speak -- whom I miss dearly.

I loved this post!

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

Isn't it Solomons Island or Smith Island in the bay where there's an ancient English dialect still spoken? Bet what you have down your way has shades of what they still speak over there... which may have ties to what Auds referred to.

Fascinating stuff, linguistics!

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Meg - It's Tangier (and Smith Island)...our Guinea area in Gloucester is very similar. We LOVE OUR GUINEAMEN! We are not making fun of them, no we are not.....

Meg @ Soup Is Not A Finger Food said...

Yeah, Tangier. That's what I was unable to remember last night in my overtired funk.

Anonymous said...

Impressive group of readers, not one mentioned this photo in the contest on the 19th - they all prefered to play instead of 'cheating' to get a quick answer.

Obviously a reflection on the site and the operator.

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Anonymous - Either that or they don't pay attention and just click on and click off because the blogger drones on too long....which I can completely understand.

But yes, one answer was here all along. I still enjoyed hearing all the interpretations based on what was presented. There is no right or wrong answer to someone's opinion of something.

Good for you for being the first one to point out that it's the same building. If you go back to the summer months, I had another photo of this that I loved due to the green vines overtaking the building.

Anonymous said...

"...going back into the summer months..."

kind of like digging into your past?