Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Talking Backwards

Over the years I have periodically mentioned the distinctive Ocracoke brogue, and have even pointed out unique and unusual Ocracoke words and phrases. Pizer, mommuck, buck, and givvy come to mind.

Recently I was perusing a yet-to-be-published chapter of a book about the Outer Banks brogue. I was reminded that a dialect's features may include much more than accent and a distinctive vocabulary. One aspect of Ocracoke speech is a "ritualized language routine" sometimes referred to as "talking backwards."

If you hang around Ocracoke long enough you will eventually hear someone say something like this: "De Blessed Father, that's one fancy outfit you've got on." What they mean is just the opposite, that you're out and about in your dirty old work clothes. Or you might hear someone exclaim, "That's one ugly young-un you've got!" when they are paying the parents a heartfelt compliment about their beautiful child. Of course, the context, inflection, and body language are all important.

If you are not used to this method of speech you might be a tad confused. But it does help make the local dialect even more interesting.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of the "Joe Bell" flower. You can read it here:


  1. Anonymous1:00 PM

    This is one tough blog to read Philip... Does that work? Speaking backwards that is...

  2. Thanks for the compliment!

  3. Anonymous9:41 PM

    I never noticed any unusual speech patterns in my grandad, although he was born & raised on OI (1892).Do you think the dialect is lost if you move away?

  4. I think accents generally diminish some when people move to a different locality. However, nearly everyone retains at least a trace of their original regional accent.

  5. The Pennsylvania Dutch and others in the Lancaster are were known for this particular speech pattern. It was common for my grandmother to tell us to "outen the light."

    Bear MacDonald