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.)