I noticed today that I use the word “y’all” an awful lot. Now, I’ve lived in the southern US since I was just shy of 3 years old, and I grew up with a lot of “y’alls” around me, so I don’t even think about it any more. It’s just reflexive to insert it in the things I say or write from time to time. Based on my chronic “y’all” habit, anyone reading my posts could be forgiven for assuming that I speak like Scarlett O’Hara. Nothing could be further from the truth, however.
My conversations are always seasoned with a healthy sprinkle of words and phrases that come from all over the place. In the span of a typical day, you would hear me use some fairly wide-ranging terminology, running the gamut from ¡Oyé! to oy gevalt. This is what happens when you speak Floridian.
Anyone who knows this state understands that there are actually 2 Floridas. In this state, the farther north you go, the closer you are to the South. From the central part of the state right on up through the Panhandle, where we rub elbows with our neighbors Alabama and Georgia, things are a bit more homogeneous, and you do find that the hallmarks of Southern culture are present and noticeable throughout the area.
In South Florida, where I was raised and still reside, there is an entirely different type of vibe. Down here, we are farther away from Georgia than we are from Cuba. There are still plenty of proper southerners and plenty of “y’alls” to be found here, but along with this, we have a blend of cultures, accents, and vocabularies reflecting the mutt-like population that coexists in this “melting pot” part of the state.
We have Cubans, of course, but also Haitians, Jamaicans, Guatemalans, Puerto Ricans and others from all over Central America, South America and the Caribbean. We have the semi-permanent residents, a migratory group known as “snowbirds”, who bring their very large, very slow RVs to visit us for several months every spring (usually from Canada, but sometimes from the Northeastern US, Europe and the UK as well). Then there are those who have transplanted themselves from one of the other 49 states, usually to retire, with a good number coming from New York or New Jersey. One of the more recent additions has been a little influx of folks from post-Katrina Louisiana, many of them with a distinct Cajun flavor. And of course there are the Florida Keys – which, let’s face it, are a nation unto themselves in many ways.
With all these different types of people thrown into the mix, my vocabulary can’t help but reflect the cultural mosaic that surrounds me every day. There’s a lot of ¡Mira, chica!, and fuhgeddaboutit, some I’m fixin’ to and some yah mon, a bit of geez it’s nice out today, eh?, and quite a liberal amount of shlep, nosh and (because I’m a big fan of rude words) schmuck. So if you ever hear me say, “Oy, don’t plotz, dude! Mira, I’m just fixin’ to go in that store, grab a couple things, bada boom, bada bing. Soon come, mon!”, you’ll have to forgive me, but I can’t help it. I’m just speaking Floridian.