On Snow, Language and the South. Sort of

January 22, 2016 7:18 pm
Clemmons, NC

A car catches fire in Raleigh, North Carolina as drivers battle heavy snow on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
A car catches fire in Raleigh, North Carolina as drivers battle heavy snow on Wednesday, February 12, 2014.
Yesterday, everything closed because it was reported we were going to get snow today. And so around 3am this morning, it started snowing and by 6am when I left early for work, the roads were already slippery. Luckily, the only other people on the road were people like me trying to beat the onslaught of clueless drivers who only ever drive on snow/ice once or a twice a year and have to be reminded, catastrophically so, what it means to have snow in the south.

I’ve learned that snow here is not like the snow that you and I grew up with which was crunchy like styrofoam and could be scooped up and thrown as snowballs or be sculpted into snowmen. The word “snow” here means something very different than the rest of the country’s usage. It’s more akin to the Southern phrase “Bless your heart” meaning anything but. Having had the phrase said to me in most variants, I propose that if one could fully explain all the nuances of the phrase “Bless your heart” then one would grasp the frustratingly complex character of certain Southerners I have come to know (you know who you are.)

So, Snow here is not “snow.” The closest thing it is is ice. And then it’s not like the ice you see hanging from trees in intricate and delicate shows of filigree. Here snow/ice generally is more like gritty sand. Sometimes folks here will call it “sleet” but again it not what you or I would call sleet which i tend think of as being wet and splooshy and behaving more like thick, very cold rain. Instead, “sleet” here is granular and pelty, as in to be pelted in the face with. This sleet falls frozen and stays frozen, quickly forming nice laminar sheets of inch-thick ice that is as impossible to drive on as you trying to imagine me skating gracefully on a rink.

When people laugh about the Southern Snowpocalypse of 2014 and the seeming ineptness of cities like Raleigh and Atlanta, I want to remind them (oh people of Colorado) that their hubris is misplaced because they are comparing apples-to-oranges. Northerners would do no better if they were subjected to the same conditions Southerners were and are. As I spend more time here, I learn this is true of more and more things. That’s all I have to say about that. For now

So, I stand outside with the kids and see them try to play on and with the “snow” which can’t be used to make snowballs or snowmen because it behaves like dry sand. Nor can it be sledded on because the snow then functions like an Olympic Luge track; the kids accelerate too fast and have to bail/eject from the sled to avoid certain doom.

Nonetheless the kids and I are having fun. There is nothing like a Certified Snow Day in which the World decides that while yes, it’s going to pummel you, it’s also going to equally pound everyone else, which makes days like this have a certain lightness of spirit, where the daily grind and load lessens because you can not go/do anywhere/anything or you will end up both literally and metaphorically in a ditch, which I think gets at something about what it means to live in the South where its rules and language aren’t readily apparent to me and even when they seem clear, may not actually be what is really going on. But with the help of some people down here, I have learned that the World is in fact not Hobbesian nor Malthusian, or Darwinian. And that’s a good thing to know. Even if they don’t actually have real snow in the South.

How Mac says “No”

If we chart the ways Mac has learned how to say, “No” and what rhetorical moves he makes when he still doesn’t get his way, we may able to get some insight into his motives, and perhaps be able to prognosticate what he may have in store for us. Also, since Scarlett is watching Mac closely and learning, we might be able to predicate what lays ahead.

  1. The Simple “No”: He learned quickly that this wasn’t getting him very far with Jenn, and simply left me stunned when I first heard it, so it still didn’t let him get his way.

  2. The Declarative “No”: This actually was first used by Jennifer. Jenn would say, “No.” and she would repeat herself by saying, “I said No.” Needless to say, this quickly was picked up by Maconnell and soon his simple No’s would be followed by an emphatic “I said No.” in which his rhetorical move is to emphatically point out—to declare—that he “exists” and should be treated as a separate entity with all rights and privileges. Lucky for us, this move is quickly countermanded by simply picking him up and placing him in his bed, his chair, or what have you.

  3. The Hidden “No” aka “Why?”: This took me a while to pick up on. Maconnell has apparently done some research in neuro-linguistics and understands that when a question is posed, we feel compelled to answer; even if we have no intention of answering the question, we still pause to consider the question which leaves us open to all sorts of further manipulation.
    So when Mac asks, “Why?” in response to a request or a command, what is really going on is he is saying “NO.” When he asks, “Why?”, we are put into an infinite loop that makes any further progress impossible. We are stopped in our tracks—mouths open—coming up with a reply, while we forget what we wanted Mac to do. It’s a neat Rhetorical Device in which ‘The Questioner is Questioned’ and all basic premises are up for grabs and Mac goes on to stay up another ten minutes past his bedtime.

  4. The Carefree “No”: Slowly we learned not to fall into his “Why?” trap, so Mac changed gears and started asking, “Why Not?” when he was told to do something. This tricked me for a while, because it brought out my anti-authoritarian streak: “Why not, indeed?!?” but then I realized it’s hard to be a parent and anti-establishment at the same time, and Mac still got to stay up past his bedtime.

  5. Bribery: “No” by other means: When all else fails, Mac has realized that he can always bribe us. He can delay his bedtime by a good 5-10 minutes if he offers, hugs, kisses, and reminds us he needs to take his vitamins and brush his teeth

  6. The Long Goodbye: “No” by Multiple Voices: This occurs once Mac realizes the jig is up and he is physically being carried to bed. He will start saying, “I love Mommy”, “See you in the morning,” and a phonetic “Bonne Nuit,”1 which is french for “Good Night.” This french flourish seduced Jenn right away, and showed Mac’s willingness to use anything, even other languages to twist us just so. But usually by this time, he has given up, worn out by his fight to stay up a few more minutes, and pretty much knocks out immediately when he is deposited in bed.

If Hobbes in Leviathan tells us that life is Bellum omnium contra omnes, then we can see that Mac learns, adapts, modifies, keeps what works and throws away what doesn’t with an ease of facility. I used to wonder how humans survived given how seemingly weak we are when young, but this exercise has dispelled that. Mac is doing just fine.

  1. Jenn tells me that actually he says, “Bye Night,” a combination of Good Night and Bye. []