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 510 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. []