Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Talking Backwards

"It's pretty some [an island expression meaning 'very pretty'] outside today," you might here an islander say. Looking out the window, you notice only rain and wind. It may seem odd, but you immediately understand that the speaker is using irony.

Talking backwards, or speaking in opposites, is a common linguistic usage on the Outer Banks. Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser comment on this in their book, Talkin' Tar Hell, How our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina.

On page 120 - 121, Wolfram and Reaser use the adjective "greatest" as an example, by quoting Ann Rose from Harker's Island (Ocracoke Islanders use this word just as they do on Harker's Island). Ann explains that the statement, "That crowd had the greatest time," doesn't necessarily indicate a positive observation. "It coulda been that maybe they were fussing about something and feuding and hollering and screaming and whatever, but 'greatest' means like intensity, you know."

Wolfram and Reaser go on to explain that "talking backwards" and other distinctive linguistic devices help set Outer Bankers apart from the mainland. They promote social solidarity, and promote the preservation of a unique culture.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is the story of Capt. Horatio Williams and his schooner, the Paragon. You can read the story here:


  1. Anonymous9:06 AM

    My favorite Ocracoke word is "slam" -- as in, "He cut his finger slam to the bone." Or "He climbed the tree slam to the top." I just love that word.

  2. Anonymous1:53 PM

    May favorite use is "That wore me slam out!"

  3. Anonymous10:58 AM

    Singer songwriter Steve Goodman Wrote a song Talk Backwords with Mike Smith. Goodman wrote in 1970 the song City of New Orleans -- now, if one visits U Tube er you Tube his Capitol hall full concert video, at about 13:50 into concert, he introduces the song. He was one heck of a guitarist. check it out all you folk fans.