Wednesday, November 02, 2011


One evening during the Folk School one of the students was wearing a sweatshirt with this message: "I am the grammarian about whom your grandmother warned you!"

We stopped to chat about grammar...and began identifying standard forms that are often "misused": "between you and me [not "I"]," "I lay [not "laid"] down in the hammock," "may [not "can"] I borrow your book," "there are fewer [not "less"] people here than I expected," etc. In the course of the conversation I mentioned that Ocracoke has a unique grammar. Below are a few examples.

Several days ago on this blog I quoted something my father had written on the back of a photograph: "This was taken the night before Garland run us out." This was not a typographical error. Ocracokers routinely use the present tense to indicate the past. For example an O'cocker might say "I eat my dinner at 5:30 last night."

Ocracokers also often use "weren't" in place of "wasn't." So you might hear someone say "He weren't no better at that than a small child."

Sometimes Ocracokers put an "s" on a third person singular verb. For example, "His children follows him everywhere" is a common construction.

These expressions are not "wrong" although they are non-standard. They simply follow a different set of (unwritten) grammar rules. Walt Wolfram, professor of linguistics, writes that islanders' dialect "reflects agreement patterns that used to be standard in earlier forms of English but [that] are no longer considered acceptable."

This variety is one more thing that makes living on the island so interesting. I will share more about Ocracoke grammar in the future.

PS: Speaking of grammar, don't forget to tune in to Jeopardy tonight to watch Charles, our high school English teacher, compete in the Tournament of Champions!

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an article written by my Uncle Marvin in 1954. You can read it here:


  1. bill kostar7:31 AM

    And as Harry Truman directed his staff, "Ending a sentence with a preposition is a practice with which I will not up put"!
    Tongue in cheek, of course.

  2. Anonymous9:13 AM

    It all works for me!

    Thanks so much for the Jeopardy reminder. I've been so busy that this NC mainlander has missed getting her daily VC Ocracoke Journal "fix"! I was nearly in "jeopardy" of missing Charles in this latest tournament.

    As always, great blog, Philip!

  3. Heard someone the other day say, "Hers don't eat lettuce!"

  4. Anonymous12:06 PM

    It's none of my business if somebody wants to dangle their participle, and when it comes to syntax, I'm strictly against it. I think we already pay enough taxes.

  5. Anonymous2:52 PM

    Looks like a picture-perfect fall day down there today, Philip. Bask in the beauty for all of us, would ya?

  6. Watching jeopardy!!!!

  7. Reminds me of the scene in "Oh, Brother, Where Art Thou?"

    "Where's Mrs. Hogwaller?"

    "She done r-u-n-n o-f-t."

  8. Anonymous9:08 AM

    And, "Dilber, we thought you was a toad!"

  9. Anonymous9:08 AM

    And, "Dilber, we thought you was a toad!"