Why the word “wellie” matters

It is not unusual to hear a person judge another by the way he or she speaks. Often, a man or woman’s dialect reflects where he or she is from.

Obviously, a person’s first language may reveal where they grew up. French persons usually speak French, Spanish persons speak Spanish and so on. But the dialect – or, to use a more inflammatory term, “accent” – of a language can be an indicator that’s even more precise.

Here in the United States, I once believed a Southern dialect was all in the same. I quickly discovered upon moving to the South, however, this is incorrect: I can now tell the difference in the way a person from North Carolina speaks compared to South Carolina. Georgia, too. Any other flavor of a Southern dialect must be Alabama or Mississippi or somewhere “over there.”

Interestingly enough, though, most of these persons speak the same language. It’s the dialect that separates them in how they talk.

TODAY I READ a post on Facebook that said “There’s no such things as ‘talking white.’ It’s called speaking proper English. Who raised you idiots?” Instantly, I hated it.

Here’s why:

  • There’s no such thing as “proper English” in the U.S. We end sentences with prepositions constantly, don’t know how to use “whom” and cannot for the life of us figure out when to say “different from” or “different than.” Proper English – if it even exists – is in England … and none of us use it here, across the pond.
  • “Ain’t” is now in the dictionary. So is “neckbeard” and “hot mess.” And, yes, “y’all” has also been added to the dictionary. These and many other terms previously considered slang and “improper” are now acceptable by virtue of folks using them so frequently.
  • ­Many individuals view their dialect as a badge of honor representing a number of demographics, including their life experiences of which they are extremely proud despite how others may view them. Using my experience as a transplanted Southerner, it’s practically a crime to judge a person negatively for using terms such as “hey bo” and “lighting the fire.” If you have something to say about how the natives speak, “you can take your little ass back up North where you came from.” We wouldn’t be so arrogant as to criticize someone from England for using “bloody” in an exclamatory phrase, would we?

SO WHY IN THE world would someone cast stones at another for his or her variety of verbal communication? Shouldn’t we view it as a fast and easy way to learn something about a stranger? Why can’t we appreciate dialects, including slang terms used by a member of a demographic different from ours? Let’s face it: if everyone were from the same town, same family and had the same life experiences, they would speak exactly the same.

But wouldn’t that be really boring?

I was introduced this morning to the term “white swag” by a black woman. I’d never heard it, so she explained it to me. I am richer having learned this, for I may hear it again in the future, know exactly what is meant and better communicate with the person who said it.

I understand there is a time and place for certain verbiage. Going into a job interview and telling prospective bosses and coworkers you have your “white swag” going on today generally isn’t good idea. I will never be anything but offended if I hear any variation of the N-word under any circumstances, despite it being an accepted term in many circles. While I believe it’s important for teachers to teach correct grammar, some of the most effective teachers I’ve known are those who can communicate on their students’ level, no matter the color of their skin, economic background or where they were raised. Teachers can’t connect with a student if they’re giving them crap for saying “can” I instead of “may” I and, consequently, can’t teach him or her, well, much of anything simply because they cannot communicate.

It’s a lesson carried into the workplace as adults, homes as parents, churches as members and so on and so on and so on.

I believe the world would be a much better place if we took time to embrace the way others talked instead of snapping something critical in our heads and on Facebook. The words people use – proper or improper, correct or incorrect, real or made-up – are a handsome collection that represents who they are, what they’ve become and what they’ve gone through to get there. We might actually learn something from these people who don’t use our interpretation of “proper” English if we actually listened.

Now then. Isn’t it just ignorant to expect everyone to talk the same?

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3 Responses to Why the word “wellie” matters

  1. Sharon Barber says:

    Justin~~Truly a good piece of work. Makes one stop and think and consider. However, enlighten and educate me….what is “white swag”? Never heard the term. Sharon

    • I was told it’s when a black person wears something like a sport coat, dress shirt and tie with some nice jeans. That was the specific example of “white swag” I was give. Ironically, that ensemble is one of my favorites. I guess i have white swag.

      • Sharon Barber says:

        Justin, thank you. I’m with you, however. What you describe as “white swag” is a really good look in my book. 🙂 Sharon

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