By: James F. O’Neil
“So, where ya’ from?”
“The South Side of Chicago. You know Chicago?”
“I sure could tell by your accent you’re not from around here.”
That’s what I hear when I’m in Newark, Ohio, talking to a grocery-store clerk; or in Saint Louis; or in Cairo, Illinois; or, even more, in Darien, Georgia, not too far from the Florida border, the state in which I have lived for more than thirty years.
They can still tell I’m not from around “here”–or “there.” What gives me away?
Is Newark, Ohio, like Newark, New Jersey [“JOYsea”–or “GERsee,” as “gerbil” or “German”]?
And about Cairo, Illinois: Is that like “kai” as in “KAYak” or “CAIro,” Egypt? Or more like “cay” or “Kaye,” like Karo syrup, that thick sweetener, used in baking, cooking, and on pancakes?
The folks in Darien, Georgia, catch shrimp–some of the best. They don’t care how I talk or where I am from: They care that I like the shrimp and like the hush puppies.
I lived in Saint Louis for two years of college. Saint Louis is but 300 miles from Chicago–the “-ca-” in “Chicago” pronounced by me as in “caught” or as the sound of a crow “cawing” while sitting on a telephone or electrical wire.
My college friends, however, had a tendency to say “shi- [“shin”]-KAH-[a Boston “kah”]-goe” [“toe”], much like the way President Obama pronounces the name of his home city. (My green car [“kar,” “CARpet,” and “cargo”] was a “core” in Saint Louis; its roof sounded like a dog’s “woof, woof.”)
These various listeners hear my stories told in my Upper-Midwest dialect. And that’s the long and the short of it, the length of Illinois, from Chicago to those good folks in “downstate” Illinois, south of Springfield and East Saint Louis, down near the southernmost border, around “KAY-roe.”
“So, where you from?”
“Oh, Dess Moynes (Dah Moine)?”
* * *
[Author’s note: I once lived in Des Plaines (Dess Planes), Illinois, the home of the first franchise McDonald’s. Oh, and there is “no noise” in Illinois: It’s like “ill-in-NOY.”]
© James F. O’Neil 2013