Words must be my passion if I find myself dreaming about them at night. In the past I’ve dreamt that I was writing some important piece of journalistic prose or crafting the absolutely perfect title for a newspaper (I did not remember the title when I woke up – perhaps Shades of Indistinct?). My dream last night was far less lofty. In the wee hours of the morning, I found myself dreaming about slang, and while I hate to admit it, my slang was pretty bad.
In my dream, I was taking a class where I had to read a short story, and within that story, I read phrases like, “Iffin’ when I see the show, then I’ll tell you what I thought of it” or “I ain’t gonna feed you breakfast until you make your bed.” The class instructor had just one test question for us: “Name all the slang in this piece of literature.” Sounds simple enough, but in the dream, I froze. Aside from “iffin’ when” and “ain’t,” I was drawing a blank. I couldn’t remember the story, and I just kept thinking, “Um, my parents corrected all of my language growing up, and my brain just edited that entire story to register as completely grammatically correct in every detail. So, basically, I don’t remember. Oops.”
Slang doesn’t really enter your vocabulary when you are the daughter of an English professor and a reading specialist. I remember Dad correcting my “tooken” and making it “taken” when I spoke as a child. My mother practiced the “i” and “e” with me. In my hometown, “pen” and “pin” sound like the same thing, but thanks to my mom, I now clearly enunciate each of those vowels when I speak. By the time my parents were done with me, they’d managed to hide any possible trace of my state of origin. I don’t sound like a stereotypical West Virginian, and I don’t really fit any other state either.
My first-year college roommate agreed with this assessment when we first met. As a Vermont native, she expected some “y’alls” or something similar to come popping out of my mouth. In fact, aside from calling a can of “soda” a can of “pop,” she couldn’t place my language at all . But that didn’t stop her from trying. All year long she kept stopping my sentences mid stream and asking me to repeat words so she could check for an accent. We didn’t room together the next year.
I guess the only real slang I’ve picked up has come from my days of teaching in inner city Washington, D.C. My students taught me some unique phrases while, at the same time, I did my very best to keep them from using each of those phrases in grown-up conversation. If they said, “There’s a whole rack of people up in this mug,” it actually meant, “There’s a whole lot of people in this place.” If one of them threatened to beat up another one, the aggressor would say, “I’m gonna steal you.” And my personal favorite: to get someone to move faster or hurry up, you say, “Scoot your boots.” I still use that one often.
I have no idea if any of these situations contributed to my dream last night, but I’m pretty certain a dream analyst could have a heyday trying to analyze it. Perhaps it shows my repressed desire to speak slang throughout my childhood? Perhaps it indicates that I miss my days of teaching and correcting students’ casual uses of the English language? More likely, it means I shouldn’t eat dinner at 10 p.m. and then expect to sleep well when I go to bed at 11.
Whatever it means, it has prompted me to find some slang/dialect tools on the Internet, and I found this one from the New York Times:
After bragging in this entry about having no accent or other identifiable speech to place me in a location, the map in the New York Times quiz says I’m from somewhere along the east coast – anywhere from Georgia to Maine. Yep, that’s about right.