Humorist Sends Dispatches from "Up" South Humorist and writer Roy Blount Jr. has spent years exploring the rocky relationship and stereotypes between the North and the South. His latest book is a collection of witty and sly observations as a Southern white guy "living pigeon-holed" up North.
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Humorist Sends Dispatches from "Up" South

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And Dixie, Uncle Sam - humorist Roy Blount, Jr. has spent many years exploring the rocky relationship between the Northeast and the South and the stereotypes that both sides lob across the border. His latest book, "Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South," isn't about the South. Nothing could be more boring, he writes, except a book about the North. It's a collection of the observations about the differences between the two - about food and music and music about food, about politics and writing and language. Blount left his native Georgia nearly 40 years ago, and now issues essays from a rustic redoubt in western Massachusetts. He's also familiar to many of listeners as one of the regulars on WAIT WAIT…DON'T TELL ME.

Later in the hour, we'll talk with historian Timothy Garton Ash about the legacy of Tony Blair.

But first, Roy Blount, Jr. on his life-long observations of the North and South. If you have questions for Roy about his work, or if you want to share your experiences as a stranger in a strange part of the country, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail us, npr.org\blogofthenation.

And Roy Blount, Jr. joins us today from our bureau in Chicago. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. ROY BLOUNT JR. (Humorist): Hello, Neal. Nice to be here.

CONAN: And you write you can't get over the apprehension that people where you live, people smelled you the wrong way. What do you mean by that?

Mr. BLOUNT: I was referring to somebody who wrote something about Lyndon Johnson back when he was president, said he still had the stench of the South clinging to him. And I feel a little bit about the stench of the South like dogs who like to roll in things.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BLOUNT: You know, there's something tasty about some of the stench of the South. But it's - I realize that it's not all tasty. It's a great mixture, but people sniff at me in the North. They're sniffing at sort of their notion of the stench of the South. You met the true stench.

CONAN: Your book is just packed with wonderful opening lines. I have to debate over which ones to start with. But there's one I love: Generalizations about the South - unless I make them - usually irritate me.

Mr. BLOUNT: That's right. Well, it's certainly all good. You know, Southerners love to generalize. That's one generalization I'm willing to make. But you don't like to be generalized about - or just sort of - a woman, somebody from Rutgers, a student at Rutgers, a graduate student, I think, called me up, left a message on my phone saying she was going to give a presentation about good old boys to her American studies class and would I come and be one. I guess she was just going to poke me with a pointer or something.

CONAN: Show and tell day.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, exactly. So I told her I was working on my own presentation, but I wished her well. I didn't really wish her well, but I said that.

CONAN: You're polite. You're from the South, yeah.

Mr. BLOUNT: That's right. Well, in fact, she left - called back later, left another message and said, well, if you were a good old boy, you'd come.

CONAN: Well, I guess, she didn't need you to come because you already knew what they were going to be like, yeah.

Mr. BLOUNT: That's right.

CONAN: The line I especially liked, and it's one you repeat even in your introduction - different people hold different truths to be self-evident.

Mr. BLOUNT: That's right. That's something that's hard to get through the heads of - well, Northeasterners are fine. For instance, people I know up in Massachusetts tend to just refuse to believe that people believe certain things like the rapture. You know, I don't find that very credible either, that suddenly only the purest Christians are going to be snatched up out of their clothing, and leaving the rest of us down here to suffer boils and whatever else we're going to suffer. But I believe that people believe it. It's just, you know, and the more you tell people that it's unbelievable, the more they're going to enjoy believing it.

My position on the rapture, for instance: I always have to explain things like the rapture to people in the Northeast. There's a story about a preacher who was talking to his congregation and he said, I want everybody here who wants to go to heaven to stand up. And everybody stood up except one old man on the front row. And so the preacher says, everybody who wants to go to heaven, stand up. And the old man in the front row still didn't stand up. And finally the preacher said, Brother Harlan, I said everybody who wants to go to heaven stand up, don't you want to go to heaven? And he said, Oh, oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were getting up a group to go now. I think, you know, people are not really ready to be raptured, they just like to think about it.

CONAN: In the unlikely event of a water landing, it's the same kind of a deal.

Mr. BLOUNT: There you go.

CONAN: Our guest is Roy Blount, Jr. His new book is "Long Time Leaving: Dispatches From Up South." If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail is talk@npr.org.

Let's begin now with Trisha calling us from Michigan.

TRISHA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

TRISHA: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Sure.

TRISHA: I am obviously a transplant into the Michigan area. I'm from Mississippi, and I'm proud of it.

CONAN: Where in Mississippi?

TRISHA: North Mississippi, just outside of Memphis, Tennessee.

CONAN: Isn't Mississippi sort of Baja, Michigan?

TRISHA: No.

Mr. BLOUNT: Way Baja.

CONAN: And how do - do you find that people accept the way you speak and your manners?

TRISHA: Most of the time they love it, and it's an instant conversation starter as far as where am I from and that. But I found that some people are just almost rude and offensive, that when they hear me speak, they immediately will mock me. And I do find that a bit offensive because I don't think that they would do that to someone with an Indian accent or a Middle Eastern here.

CONAN: You're the last group that's fair game, in other words.

TRISHA: I guess so. And I don't mind, you know, joking around with my friends or whatnot, because I'm the first to laugh at myself. But I have found that to be the case, that they think they can just say whatever they want to. And now my coworkers have discovered that too. We've all been noticing it, and it's kind of interesting.

CONAN: Roy, there's this wonderful description you write in your book of, you're at dinner party and somebody says something that you take offense at, and you say there's nothing harder than to try to wipe the smiles off the faces of people if you're a humorist.

Mr. BLOUNT: That's right. Well, yeah, people think that people in the South - people think that people with a Southern accent are just doing it for effect. I actually had an argument with somebody the other day who said you're just putting that on, aren't you? And I said, no, it's the only way I know how to talk. And we argued for a while. And she just said, every time I hear a Southern I think - she finally said, okay, I believe you're not doing it for effect. But you know English people are.

TRISHA: Well, thank you. And I enjoy your show.

CONAN: Thank you very much, Trisha. Appreciate it.

TRISHA: Okay, bye-bye.

CONAN: So long. Let's talk now with - this is Diane. Diane's calling us from Nashville.

DIANE (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi.

DIANE: Thanks for having me.

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. BLOUNT: No trouble.

DIANE: I'm a transplant in the other direction. I came from Cape May, New Jersey and moved to Nashville and, you know, I really do stick out. But I - there are certain things that I just - I couldn't get used to, like the rules and the sayings and stuff. And my favorite one is like you go to a store that says maybe - I'm just using this as an example - you know, purple sock store, and then you go in and you go up to the counter and you say, yeah, I'm looking for a purple sock. Do you have any purple socks? And with the nicest smile - and I call it cat friendly - but with the nicest smile she looks at me and says, no, we sure don't. It's this feeling, like they're saying, you stupid Yankee, why are you even asking?

CONAN: Well, there probably aren't any purple sock stores in Nashville. That's a New Jersey - but I think there - I actually have talked to people in New York who felt that Southerners were being mannerly in order to be rude, and I said - and I told them - actually, oddly enough, when people from the South come to New York, they think people are being rude in order to be rude.

CONAN: Yeah. Well, they are. And Diane, by the way, I grew up in Bergen County, and we certainly consider people from Cape May Southerners.

DIANE: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DIANE: Well, it is on the Mason-Dixon line.

CONAN: Yup.

DIANE: And sometimes, I do put on a little drawl if, you know, if the situation arises that I…

Mr. BLOUNT: If it will get you some purple socks. What were you going to do with purple socks, anyway?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DIANE: Oh well, I sure don't know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DIANE: Thanks. It was an interesting show. Thanks.

CONAN: Thank you very much for the call.

DIANE: All right.

CONAN: The - you, in fact, tried to come up with a term for Southern - bias against Southerners. Dixiephobia was my favorite.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, I guess so. Yeah. Yeah, I think it, you know, it - people don't think that there's - that you can offend Southerners, I think. I mean, one problem is - of course, it's Southern - you know, "You Might Be a Redneck If" books.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. BLOUNT: Which are pretty funny, I think. But, you know, I was once introduced to a crowd at the 92nd Street Y in New York as the world's most sophisticated redneck, which - and, in fact, I wrote in this book - I wrote something about that and wrote about that, and wrote about how it bothered me and I, in fact, am a pretty poor excuse for a redneck. I mean, I don't even own a dog at present. So I can't really just pass myself off as a redneck. I'm not really - and also - but I just don't think people ought to toss that term around, but it's sort of - if you get mad about it, your neck starts turning red.

CONAN: I did want to point out that there were reasons you moved north. You said you went, basically, in search of the enlightenment.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, with a capital E.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. BLOUNT: You know. I wanted to come up to where people talked about ideas, you know, and were rational. And, of course, once I got up North, one thing people started asking me about trucks - and, you know, we're thinking of getting a pig - and asked me for my advice, and that's not what I wanted to talk about. But it - I came to realize that, in fact, you know, intellectuals anymore don't even believe that the default position of the human mind is rationality. So I mean - that's - and Southerners never did, so actually, we were ahead of the game. There's an old Southern story about an old boy who was asked if he believed in infant baptism, and he said, believe in it? Hell, I seen it done. That seems to be the standard of pretty much everybody…

CONAN: You got to keep - you write a whole essay about people had to explain this joke to people.

Mr. BLOUNT: I know. I said it on "Prairie Home Companion" one time, and there was a long correspondence on the "Prairie Home" Web site about people trying to - asking what that meant in terms of various Christian doctrine, doctrinal points and one thing or another, and it was fascinating. I think it's a great fusion of faith-based and evidence-based thinking.

CONAN: Roy Blount, Jr., his new book, "Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South," we'll talk more with him in just a moment. If you'd like to join us, you can go to our Web page at npr.org/blogofthenation, where you can read an excerpt, npr.org/talk. I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Later this hour, Timothy Garton Ash on the legacy of British Prime Minister Tony Blair who'll be leaving office later this summer after 10 years, and about his own recent visit to speak with Blair at 10 Downing Street. But right now, Roy Blount, Jr. is with us and his new book "Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South." He writes about Southern language, Northeastern sensibilities, food and music about food. And he reports the most recorded food song in his very extensive collection is this one:

(Soundbite of song, "Shortn'nin' Bread)

Mr. PAUL ROBESON (Singer): (Singing) Put on de skillet, put on de led, Mammy's gwine to bake a little short'nin' bread. Dat ain't all she's gwine to do, Mammy's gwine to make a little coffee, too. Mammy's lil' baby loves shortn'nin, short'nin, Mammy's lil' baby loves short'nin' bread. Mammy's lil' baby loves shortn'nin, short'nin, Mammy's little baby loves short'nin' bread.

CONAN: Paul Robeson there singing "Short'nin' Bread." And in an extensive essay on this song, Roy Blount, Jr., you begin with the question: What the heck is shortn'nin' bread anyway?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah. I mean, I actually talked to several Southern cooks and people who'd written about Southern food, and they hadn't thought about it, either. And eventually, it came to us all that it was all - it's like Scotch -you know, like, Lorna Donnes. This is shortbread.

CONAN: Shortbread.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah. It's a real crispy, shortened - it's got a lot of shortening bread in it - a lot of shortening in it, so it's really crisp and it's really tasty, and that's why it was such a delicacy.

CONAN: Now you write it became a pop hit in 1928, along with "Making Whoopee," "Button Up Your Overcoat," "Stout-Hearted Man," and "The Sweet Heart of Sigma Chi". And then you asked the question: Who wrote this song?

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah. Somebody - I forgot the name - some man took credit for it, but lots of people said it goes back to an old…

CONAN: Reese Dupree is the person.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, that's right. And - but it goes, according to some folk, you know, authority on folk music, it goes back to an old, terrible song called "Run Inward, Run," which was a - you know, it's all about the (unintelligible) being after some escaping slave. And so it's kind of - you can imagine that maybe some, you know, Mammy - I mean, somebody who has little babies was - made up a song with the same tune but much nicer, less frightening words.

CONAN: You then described various versions of it - Paul Robeson's version, you're not so fond of.

Mr. BLOUNT: Well, it seems to me a little serious, you know, a little august. Paul Robeson had a lot to - was a very responsible and serious person. Fats Waller is a lot more fun. His sounds like it's about something even tastier than short'nin bread.

CONAN: And Lee Dorsey, the great R&B man better known for working in a coalmine…

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, working in a coal…

CONAN: Right. You like his version, too.

Mr. BLOUNT: Oh yeah. Well, he's from New Orleans. And he's a great - I heard a great account of him.

CONAN: And this is, though, does cross the color line. A lot of people - white people recorded it, too. And there is a great debate, you write, about whether this is a song about food or song about sex.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah. Well, most food songs are sort of about - at least halfway about sex. There's things like "who'll chop your suey when I'm gone" and things like that. And so I think that it depends on who's singing it. Paul Robeson seems to be singing about something, you know, something more - something on a higher plane than either sex or shortening bread. But the Fats Waller, boy, he's - everything Fats Waller sings about is kind of - he's got more than a twinkle in his eye.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. The five most prolific recorders of food songs, you report, are Louis, Louis, Louis, Fats and Slim.

Mr. BLOUNT: There you go. That's right. Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan…

CONAN: Louis Prima

Mr. BLOUNT: …Louis Prima, Fats Gaylord - I mean, Fats Waller and Slim Gaylord. Louis, Louis, Louis, Fats and Slim.

CONAN: Now how did you get started on collecting all of these songs about food and why?

Mr. BLOUNT: I just kept noticing that there were a lot of songs about food, and I started taping them on my old tape recorder. And eventually, I've forgotten the number now, something like - oh, I have the number here - 2,961 songs about - involving food, you know, things like "Jambalaya," of course, and "Digging My Potatoes". But there's just, you know, there are lots of - you know, "Honeysuckle Rose" is a lot about food, you know.

CONAN: And a lot about other things, too.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah. There you go. I found, in general, that food and other things tend to overlap.

CONAN: Let's get some more callers on the line. We're talking with Roy Blount, Jr. "Long Time Leaving" is his book, "Dispatches from Up South". And let's go to Al. Al's with us from Long Island.

AL (Caller): Hi. How is everybody?

CONAN: Good.

AL: I had a - just an interesting note, and I have a quick question. I'm born and bred in Brooklyn, and from immigrant parents, and so we lived in - actually from South Brooklyn. I'm not sure if that's considered South. But South Brooklyn, and…

(Soundbite of laughter)

AL: Well, we were immigrants. We didn't really associate - treat ourselves as Northerners and - versus Southerners. We just were trying to get by. And then I lived in Virginia for seven years down by Manassas, and I was - remember, I was the only (unintelligible) New Yorker there, and my boss had called me a (unintelligible) Yankee on my first day on the job, and I don't know what he was talking about. And I said, no, I'm not. I'm a Met fan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AL: (unintelligible) But I'll tell you one thing, I did get used to it. Just a lot more you think about it, I found where I live, where people treated you and were very nice to you, were very civil to you. Or even if they didn't - even if they couldn't stand you, which I wasn't used to that. In New York, you - you know, if they don't like you in New York, you would know it right away. And at first I said, well, that's pretty funny. You know, if they didn't like me, why were they so nice to me? But after a while, I actually started liking it. I said, you know what? Them being civil to me, even if they didn't like me, is actually sort of nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah. In the North, if people don't like each other, they yell at each other and insult each other. In the South, if you don't like somebody, you're more likely to hit him or something.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. BLOUNT: You have to…

CONAN: Well, we have this…

Mr. BLOUNT: If you're going to be honest. You have to hit him.

AL: That's true. And Neal my question real quick is, how do the Yankee term -become Yankee? I mean, what exactly does that mean?

Mr. BLOUNT: The Yankee charm?

AL: The term, the term Yankee.

CONAN: Oh, the term Yankee.

Mr. BLOUNT: Oh, oh…

AL: Yeah.

Mr. BLOUNT: It's the same word as Yonkers, I think. It comes from - it's a Dutch word for people. I don't now how it came to be applied to people of the North exactly, but it's a Dutch word for people up there.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Yup.

AL: Okay.

CONAN: Al, thanks for the call. And here's an email to this point. Charles, from Redwood City, California writes us:

Southerners are definitely mannerly to be rude. Someone from Arkansas told me you can say anything about someone as long as you follow it up by saying, bless her heart.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, that's true. Yeah. Bless your heart. She sure is as mean as a snake, bless her heart.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: The - you've spent some time abroad, as have I. I lived as NPR's London bureau chief in England for four years. And there, I found I could get away with all sorts of things that I could never get away with with the way I speak normally, that, you know, I could use Dan Rather-isms. He jumped out of that like a chicken on a junebug. And you could get away with this stuff there.

Mr. BLOUNT: People in - yeah, outside of this country, everybody's just an American. They don't know the difference between South and North. And you - and also, you - the more quaint you are, I guess, the - but the - and some people - excuse me - who follow that policy as Southerners in the North try to sound like somebody out of Little Abner or something. But I - I never liked to do that. I always liked to - you know, you can - well, actually, for instance, there was this headline in the New York Times one time that said, "Old Southern Custom on the Wane" - "Old Southern Custom of Eating Dirt Seen on the Wane." And it was - I knew that meant people were going to be asking me about, you know, I thought you knew all about the South, but I didn't know you eat dirt.

Oh, isn't that (unintelligible). So you can go two ways: you can either say - take the Jimmy Carter approach, which is to say, well, you know, the truth is that I don't really eat dirt myself, and nobody in my family ate dirt. I don't really know - but I know there are people who chew on clay for dietary reasons. And if you do that, people will just say uh-huh. Here is this guy, who's from people who eat dirt. And he's - but you - and he thinks he's better than them. But what you should do is go the Billy Carter way and say, hell, yes, we eat dirt. You never had any black and red dirt, you don't know what's good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That was that…

Mr. BLOUNT: That's more fun.

CONAN: Yeah, there was the newspaper reporter who interviewed, you know, some banker from the South and asked him if he'd ever had squirrel or possum or something, yeah.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, first question was, yeah, have you ever eaten squirrel?

(Soundbite laughter)

Mr. BLOUNT: Here's this guy who was the head of (unintelligible) or something, and he said - well, yeah, I've eaten squirrel. You wouldn't want to say no. I mean, people would think, well, he's not really from Georgia. He's never eaten squirrel. So then the headline, the story the next day, was "Squirrel-Eating Exec Says…"

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Let's get another caller in. This is Rick. Rick's calling us from Iowa.

RICK (Caller): Hey. How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well. Thanks.

RICK: Actually, I'm from Columbus, Georgia.

Mr. BLOUNT: Ah. I'm from Decatur, Georgia.

RICK: The what?

Mr. BLOUNT: I'm from Decatur.

RICK: Oh. How are you doing?

Mr. BLOUNT: Fine.

RICK: And my wife and I are here in Iowa, and - because she's a graduate student. I'm also a poet, and I like to write about my, you know, Southern heritage and experience. And I found that it's acceptable that there's a lot of questions about it, you know, and…

Mr. BLOUNT: Questions about being a poet, or questions about being from the South?

RICK: Well, the poetry that I write. I mean, like, I - one poem I wrote is called "Momma's Wooden Spoon." And it's about breaking my father's jaw with a wooden spoon that she used for her black-eyed peas.

Mr. BLOUNT: Uh-huh.

RICK: Well, guess what? No more black-eyed peas. So, I mean, you know - so people, the food is different. But I tell you, what I guess my question is for you is the Dixie flag. How do you deal with seeing it outside South on people who aren't even from the South?

Mr. BLOUNT: The Confederate flag. Well, I actually think the purpose of a flag is to bring people together. And it's pretty silly to have a flag that people disagree on. I once proposed a whole new Southern flag, which was a - background which was half green and half - which is for money - and the other half blue for the blues. And it was a white hand and a black hand shaking, and underneath it, it said, "Just fine, and you?"

(Soundbite of laugher)

RICK: Boy, a little bit of red for the clay, though.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah.

CONAN: And with a little hot sauce on it.

RICK: There you go.

CONAN: Rick, though, do you find - because Roy makes this point in his book - do you find it's easier to write about the South when you're not there?

Mr. BLOUNT: It is, yeah. For one thing, it's - your neighbors aren't going to read it. But for another thing - yeah, it's easy to write about anything when you're not there because - especially, you know, I can write about the South as I think about it instead of looking out the window and seeing that it's different.

RICK: That's true. That's true. And especially when you're not there surrounded by it, and then you start missing it.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, you - if you're - I think you have to be outside of the South to be a real Southern writer, because if you're writing about Southern things and you're in the South, then you are just writing about things. Nobody knows -but if you keep on writing about Southern stuff outside the South then it's because - either because you want to or can't help it. In either case, you're a deep-dyed Southern writer.

RICK: Amen.

Mr. BLOUNT: There you go.

CONAN: Rick, thanks very much for the call. Good luck to you.

RICK: Thank you very much, bye.

CONAN: We're talking with Roy Blount, Jr. His new book is "Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South." If you care to join us, 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. Email is talk@npr.org. There's also a conversation going on on our blog. That's at npr.org/blogofthenation. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And this from Laurel.

I'd like to have died when I transferred from a University in Indiana to the University of Southern Mississippi in 1978. Within the first week, I was chastised by a gas station attendant for not knowing that a license plate was actually a tag, and had become an informal course in Southern Linguistics 101 so that my roommate and I could understand each other's conversation. Talk about culture shock. The upside was that I learned to cook greens - really cook greens - and gumbo and a lot of other dishes that I'd never heard of.

Mr. BLOUNT: Well, that sounds like a - on the whole - a positive experience.

CONAN: Indeed.

Mr. BLOUNT: I always - people always - when I say that I came up North - and, you know, when was in - one summer when I was in college, and people say - to spend the summer in New York. And people say it must have been a big culture shock for you, wasn't it? And I always really just don't like that. I always say, well, it wasn't as good as I expected, but it was all right.

CONAN: Let's go to Gordon - Gordon's with us from Kentucky.

GORDON (Caller): Hi, y'all.

Mr. BLOUNT: Hi, Gordon.

GORDON: Roy, I enjoy your essays, and I look forward to reading this book.

Mr. BLOUNT: Thank you.

GORDON: I studied linguistics at Emory University under Lee Patterson, and Lee did the catalog of Southern speech, which is now at University of Georgia. Did you ever hear the term lanyap?

Mr. BLOUNT: Lanyap, yeah.

GORDON: Do you know what it means?

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah. Lanyap is a New Orleans term for if you buy some, you know, buy something at the grocery store, they'll toss in an extra onion for free. It's lanyap.

GORDON: That's right. That was a great word. A lot of great words. I spent a lot of time in Louisiana.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah.

GORDON: Words like caso(ph) and boo-da(ph) and pi-rog(ph) and slambo(ph) and things like that.

CONAN: Well, Roy, you read about the "Dictionary of Smokey Mountain English" further up North.

Mr. BLOUNT: That is a great - great - yeah, there's no - "Smokey Mountain English" is a wonderful book from the - serious linguists went up there into the mountains of - up there in Virginia, Tennessee and collected expressions. Now, I'm trying to think of one, but he - there's this wonderful, scratchy kind of gritty words, you know, that capture the - thumb through my book now and think more, but…

CONAN: Mm-hmmm.

GORDON: Well, I'll give you a for instance. I was raised in Albany, Georgia, by the way.

Mr. BLOUNT: Albany, yeah, right.

GORDON: Roy, was you fotched up.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah.

CONAN: Fot(ph).

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah, and a lot of that stuff comes from old English.

CONAN: Yeah.

Mr. BLOUNT: You know, when people still, you know…

GORDON: Well, I was going to say, a fellow told me one time his mule's hooves got brickly(ph), and I'd never heard that word, and I looked it up, and it was of old Elizabethan. He also said hop(ph), which more is a…

Mr. BLOUNT: Hope me, yeah.

GORDON: You know, it might a hope me do that.

Mr. BLOUNT: Which is the way it was originally pronounced, or at least pronounced at an early period of English.

CONAN: One of my…

GORDON: I'll leave with one funny story, if I may. Did you hear about the man whose coon dog got caught hunting - got stuck in a hollow log when he was hunting for coons?

Mr. BLOUNT: Uh-uh.

GORDON: And he said, the way he got him out was he got up in the log, got stuck two, so then he thought about that time he went to the polls and voted Republican, and he just shrunk right up to where he got out of the log.

Mr. BLOUNT: He slipped right out. There you go.

GORDON: I'll see y'all.

CONAN: Thanks very much. It was a - it was a long discourse about the proper usage of the term y'all. It was nice to hear Roger Clemens there up in the Bronx and Yankee Stadium using it in the preferred plural.

Mr. BLOUNT: Yeah. There was a terrible magazine - Southern magazine called "Y'all," which said, in its first issue, that y'all is singular and all y'all is plural. That's just completely wrong. Y'all is plural. It's a second person plural. That's too bad that every part of the country doesn't have a second person plural, but the South does. And all y'all, just is a more general embrace it. You could say, say you're sitting at a table and you say to two people, I wish y'all would come up an visit us. And then you turn to the rest of table and say all y'all come on up.

The only thing you should watch about that is that they probably don't really mean that you should all come up and visit. But at any rate…

CONAN: Roy Blount, Jr. hopes ya'll buy his book. Roy Blount, Jr. is the author of "Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South". There's an excerpt from the book a npr.org/talk. He's also a regular panelist at Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. BLOUNT: Thank you, Neal. I enjoyed it.

CONAN: Roy Blount, Jr. joined us from our bureau in Chicago today. Coming up next: Tony Blair announced today that he'll step down as prime minister next month. Timothy Garton Ash spoke with Blair at 10 Downing Street, and will join us to talk about Blair's legacy. If you'd like to join that conversation, 800-989-8255. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION - from NPR News.

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