Musings and Amusings

Tomato Tom-ah-toe

tomato tomahtoe

Years ago, when I landed in Dublin after the long flight from Denver via Heathrow, I popped into a cab for a ride to my hotel.

irish cab My cab driver was a chatty lad, carrying on a one-sided conversation in which he’d rattle off a few sentences in rapid-fire fashion; turn his head back over the seat for a quick look in my direction; and ask, “D’yaknowwhatuhmean?”

This continued for the entire 30-minute cab ride. Even though he was speaking English, the ONLY part of his conversation I understood was his repetitive “Do you know what I mean?” Each time I would dutifully respond “yes” – sometimes even an enthusiastic, emphatic “YES!” – despite not having a clue what he was saying.

I’ve never forgotten the first time someone told me I have an accent.

The nerve!

At the time, I lived in Michigan and was driving through the beautiful limestone hills and small towns of rural Missouri.

“What do you mean I have an accent? You Missourians are nothing BUT accents!” I thought to myself.

michigan mapWhen I moved to Colorado, I learned what people meant by the ‘flat vowel’ Michigan accent.

Colorado accents, if any, are subtle. I can’t really point to any distinct accent markers that scream Rocky Mountain region; it’s more the absence of markers that gives us our accent-less distinction. Colorado vowels, when spoken, are more clipped and upright – if that makes any sense.

No drawl; no nasal tone; no drawn-out, fading finish to our high-altitude vowels.

I like to think I’ve lost my flat-vowel, Midwest ‘tell’. After all, I’ve lived in Colorado more than half my life.

There was one little bugaboo, however, in my Colorado accent-less immersion that puzzled me in recent years. Every time I’d say the word ‘bag’ – and I’ve said it a lot the last 10 years because we’re often schlepping overnight bags, food bags and activity bags to and from our grandkids’ house – my daughter-in-law would say, in a slightly mocking (although still affectionate) way, “There you go with your Midwest b-a-a-a-a-g.”

“What the hell; I’m pronouncing it like everyone else!” I’d think to myself each time.

Finally one evening last winter, I’d had enough. When she made her predictable comment, I objected.

“Ba-a-a-a-g”, I said defensively (but affectionately). “Like bay or bake or baby or razor. I don’t see why you comment on the way I say bag. I say it just like I say all those other words. LONG A

vowel a

After a pregnant pause, she – a Colorado native and elementary school teacher – said gently, “Actually, the ‘A’ in bag is a short ‘A’, not a long ‘A’.”

“What-t-t-t-t ?!?” (my thought bubble)

“It is not!” I said incredulously. “It’s a long ‘A’.”

“No,” using her patient teacher tone. “It’s short; like map or rat or tan.”

vowel a2“It can’t be.” I protested. “It’s always been ba-a-a-a-g. Long ‘A’.”

Hub – who can’t, by any stretch, call himself a linguist – piped up, “Parker’s right. It’s a short ‘A’ in bag.”

Out came my 1970 Webster’s Dictionary backed up by my I-Pad Wiktionary search.

“What … The … Hell? Call the Word Police. Someone screwed up, and it can’t possibly be me!”

Alas, in Michigan even though we boiled in a pan, took a nap, swung a bat, we:

Played ta-a-a-a-g

Cleaned with a ra-a-a-a-g

Carried a ba-a-a-a-g

colorado mapNot so in Colorado (or in Webster’s Dictionary either for that matter) …

Now I find myself mimicking Raqi when she was three years old and constantly whispering words to herself to sear them into her toddler brain.

“Lap, mat, bag … ran, pat, bag … map, brat, bag …”, I chant just loudly enough to reach my own ears.

I’m not sure I’m all that successful at mastering my personal vowel paradigm. No worries. It’s a measure of my fondness for my Michigan roots that I now take my suitcase and pouch to visit my grandkids, and take my ba-a-a-a-gs on my trips to Michigan.


Photos courtesy of Google Images

Comments on: "Tomato Tom-ah-toe" (47)

  1. Really, a short a in bag? I thought it was a long A all along. Who killed the long A in baaag?!? 🙂

    Oh, I so know what you mean about accents. I was born and grew up in E. Europe, spoke Romanian for the first twenty years of my life (a language very close to Italian), learned the Queen’s English, moved to the U.S. and had to throw that out the window and speak Californian English. While I don’t have an accent most times, it does come out when I’m tired, or after a glass of wine. When I go back to Romania (my native country!!!) they tell me I have an accent when I speak Romanian. So, basically, I’ve come to accept that I have an accent no matter what language or dialect I speak. Oh, well.

    Love your cab-driver story. In Germany, years ago, we met a couple (wife Aussie, husband British). They both spoke English, although whatever they said barely made it into any English I understood. Haha.

    Great post, Sammy.

    • Ooh, Silvia, that’s gotta sting to return to Romania and be told you have an accent! Maybe you need MORE wine while you’re there 🙂

      I did not know Romanian was similar to Italian. My version of Italian is “pick an English, Spanish or French word and add an ‘-a’ to the end (and that’s an ‘uh’ sound, not a Long A!!)

      Perhaps you’d like to pack your ba-a-a-ag and visit Michigan with me where we can track down that missing Long A 🙂

  2. He he he, Sammy. Being born and raised in New England I totally, In My Opinion, have lost all of my accent after being out west for 44 years now…..except….. for the word aunt. Everyone out here has heard me exclaim. “Ants crawl on the ground, it’s awnt.!!”

  3. Sammy, What a great tale and revelation. I picture you walking around like the character “Brick” from The Middle. (He whispers to himself.)
    Being from the south, I love different accents and pronunciations. Part is envy and the other is relief that we’re not the only ones altering certain sounds. I, do however, prefer when I can understand what is being said 🙂 Love the Dublin story!

    • I wish I could spell with a southern twang to say, “Why thank you, Miss Elsie!”. It is such fun reading these comments and realizing how many ways we “speak English”. No wonder Americans are woefully deficient at foreign languages; we have to learn a bunch of our own.


  4. Love this post! I’m from New York – and I never knew I had an accent until I moved out of New York. I’ve now been in California around 40 years and have lost my New York accent, but I get it back when I speak with other New Yorkers. Great post! 🙂

    • Thanks Lynn! It’s going some to believe a “New Yawker” can lose it for California! I bet it’s funny to listen to you when you’re on the phone to someone “back home”.

  5. Great post. I grew up in Pittsburgh which is a very small region with a distinct regional accent and vocabulary (I’m not kiddin yinz). I’ve lost most of that accent, but I still put the emphasis on the first syllable of UM-brella as opposed to these people in New England.

    • Thanks, Dan! When you lived in Pittsburgh, did yinz drink soda or pop? Probably trick question since yinz drank beer. Michiganders drink pop and Coloradans drink soda.

      Speaking of drinking, don’t New Englanders drink a glass of watah out of their faucet?

      • We drank pop. CT has water. The closer you get to Boston the more you hear watah. We drink soda in CT but I prefer water or beer.

      • I’m really enjoying the anecdotal comments! Would love to spend an evening in a Philly bar.

        Of those 3, I’m water all the way.

  6. Wonderful post! I love your accent 😉 It’s always a shock the first time you’re told you have one! I love them (especially Irish ones!) 😉

  7. Lol – that’s pretty funny, Sammy! I’m familiar with a lot of the US accents, but I’ve always wondered what my “American” accent (but of course, I don’t have one, right?) sounds like to English speakers in England, Scotland, Ireland, etc. I’ve heard we all kind of sound like how they imagine cowboys to sound…but really? I don’t even chew tobacco or say y’all. But really, I wish I had neutral ears that could let me listen to what ‘Mericans sound like to the rest of the world. 😉

  8. Totally loved this post! I’ve been on several trips to Detroit since I moved to Windsor, Ontario three years ago, and really do notice the different accent (even though we’re just across the river, we’re in a whole other country, so I guess it makes sense!). I also listen to a radio station where most of the ads are from Detroit businesses, and there’s one for a car radio store that cracks me up every time. The guy in the ad is saying, “We’re going to knock the socks off the big box stores!” but to me it sounds like, “We’re going to knahck the sahcks off the big bahx stores!” Love these differences. No worries – I was teased about the way I say “about” when I was in San Jose this past weekend, so we all get it at some point or other. 🙂

    • LOL great story about the radio station!!!

      I dated a Canadian hockey player when we were at Michigan State, and one of the reasons I thought he was so “hot” was the way he said ‘about’. (Aboot) He didn’t last long, but my love affair with aboot still flourishes 🙂

  9. Faaaab post, Sammy. I remember my first trip to the US at the age of 12 and having a discussion with an American teen as to who had the accent. We didn’t agree on who, but agreed that the other’s was better. I always wanted an American accent growing up, because of course we heard it in TV. Long A or short A!

    • Thank you!! Love your envy … and we all hang our heads because the ONLY way we speak is blah English – not like all those exotic places like … Australia. Mate 🙂

  10. What a great post. Accents are sooo interesting. I’m from ‘oop north’ so have very flat vowels which even though my accent has changed over the years, still remain. The kids I taught in the south of England had great fun asking me to say ‘butter’ they say ‘bahter’ or ‘garidge’ they say ‘garrarge’ When I arrived back in England after living in South Africa (seth efrika) most people thought I was from New Zealand – it’s those short clipped vowels that do it, whereas the Aussies drag them out. Austraahlia. American accents are equally fascinating, especially the southern accents. But I cannot tell the difference in Canadian accents – now they all sound alike.

    • Thanks,Jude – amazing even in a (relatively) smaller country like the UK to find such variation. I always enjoy hearing the distinctions between the classes in the many British shows like Downton Abby, as well.

      I am surprised to hear you say you don’t notice differences in Canada because it is so vast and because the topography changes radically as well. I just assumed they’d have changing accents like we do in the States.

      My dermatologist is from New Zealand, and you are right. I was shocked that she didn’t “talk like an Aussie!”

      It’s all quite fascinating. D’yaknowwhatuhmean?

  11. Great story, Sammy! Very entertaining. I’m from New England (Vermont), and I say “water” but not “ayup” or anything like that. I love accents, particularly Scottish, Irish, and British. That was one of my favorite things when I went to the British Isles — listening to everyone talk. I so wish I could speak the way they do.

    • Vermont,eh? Lovely state. Years ago we took a bike tour through the Northern Kingdom … I could tell tales about “quirks” from that trip 🙂

      Alas, it seems we all wish we had a Pimm’s cup full of “merry olde England” or a wee bit of the brogue in our
      voices. Right-o

  12. Love this post. Of course one’s own accent is the norm, and it’s astounding to find oneself in an environment where one “has an accent” for the first time. Wish I could hear your b-a-a-a-g. I will ask my son’s new girlfriend, who is from Michigan.

    • Uh oh. I was praying no one from Michigan would catch wind of this post and unmask my deep-seated fear that I was the sole misinformed Michigander regarding the proper pronunciation of ba-a-a-g.

      Here’s hoping the new girlfriend rhymes it with baby and bake and razor. If so, she’s a keeper. If not, throw her back 🙂

  13. I think accents are a hoot, Sammy! 🙂 I met a fellow blogger last Summer (Cathy at Nomad Interrupted) and although I knew she was American I was just totally unprepared to hear her speak. I read comments in my own accent, I guess. How stupid is that? 🙂

    • LOL LOL But of course, how else can we read them?!? Oh crickey, that’s funny!!

      And when we DO meet someone with an accent, don’t you find that we ascribe certain personality traits based on whether we’re charmed or not by the accent?

  14. Omg, your story brought me right back to my childhood family reunions when all of my midwestern cousins would make fun of my “New England accent”. And here I was thinking how funny THEIR accents were, lol!

    The most interesting accents I’ve encountered were in New Zealand. As an elementary school teacher, I found myself analyzing which vowels were long and which were short. It’s so fascinating how the same language can evolve in so many different, subtle ways! Great post!!

    • 🙂 we Midwesterners know an accent when we hear one 🙂

      You are right; the differences in accents are many and fascinating. And we barely touched on regional colloquialisms. What fun we have with this intricate wonder we call communication!

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Jen.

  15. Ha! I bet you have a lovely accent 🙂 And you should rock that accent with pride. In fact, go ahead and pronounce “bag” however you like!

    Being from Brooklyn, NY, I’ve certainly garnered a few chuckles whenever traveling, especially when ordering my morning “caw-fee”. My son once came home from school very puzzled because his teacher had that said “log” and “dog” were supposed to rhyme. To any New Yorker, those two words definitely do not rhyme! Which wasn’t easy to explain to a five year old.

    • 🙂 I’d love to have a cuppa Brooklyn caw-fee with you so you can explain the difference between log and dog!

      These comments have been such fun for me. Thanks for adding yours. Ya just never know which posts will grab the most interest, and that’s what makes this venture seem so human.

  16. O my! Great post thank you! Had a laugh (laff) or three ..We have so many accents here in South Africa, clicks included …

  17. Hilarious, Sammy! 😀 We just came back from Michigan and got a good dose of those broad A s, but we’re used to them from visiting Western New York as well. I was shocked when several people in California remarked that I have a Canadian accent. WE don’t have accents; YOU ALL do! LOL Yes, we sometimes say “EH” (okay, fairly often) but we DON’T say “ABOOT”; it’s “ABOWT”.
    One of my internet friends is from The Bronx NY and I just love listening to her “TAWK”. Entertaining post and the comments are such fun!

    • 🙂 Thanks, Debbie. I was surprised and delighted at how this post generated such fun anecdotes. It turns out we ALL have accents or NONE of us do !!

  18. I lived in Ohio for 4 years, occasionally ventured into Michigan, and never noticed a difference in the way “bag” was pronounced. I’ll have to pay more attention to my Michigan friends. But then, I grew up in Massachusetts which means I am probably tone deaf anyway!

    • Yes, I’m still waiting for some Michigander to tell me I was the only one mis-pronouncing bag! Ohio had its own regional distinctions as I recall, and Massachusetts – yup -in a class of its own :-). Fascinating stuff, our communication, eh?

  19. Haha it’s funny, for me everyone in the US has an accent – an American accent! 😉 Whereas I’d say that I have no accent (I have a generic received pronunciation English accent)
    Although I’m with you, I very much struggle with some of the thicker British accents and with the Irish accent. But then again the Irish accent sounds so lovely, so cheeky that I would be happy to listen to them talk to me without understanding an actual word. Just let the pretty sounds wash over my ears. 🙂

    • D’yaknowwhatuhmean. ?!?

      I love the Iris too. And those mates from down under Land of Oz.

      Glad to hear from you; I was thinking about you just last night and hoping you are ok, and here you are delivering my morning coffee.

      Kiss Kiss

      • Well I hope you enjoyed the coffee, my pleasure to have delivered it.

        And thank you for thinking of me Sammy, that’s so lovely of you. I’ve neglected the blogosphere because things are going so well in real life with the book that I am writing all the time, I just don’t want to step away from it! So although it’s naughty it’s actually really good, and so exciting.

      • That is GREAT news – both you and Kirsten making progress on books! Fabulous :-). Keep working on your book and I will send you literary energy XXOO

  20. My mantra, now that I’ve moved to the U.K. and have a noticeable accent is that everyone has an accent. Everyone! Sometimes I want to yell it from the rooftops, and if I was better with heights I just might try it.

  21. Loved this post Sammy D! Brought me right back to 5th grade when we moved from Maine to Connecticut. I got a big hee-hee from kids when I said pak the ca! Now where did those rs go?

    • Thank you for stopping by. i’m glad you enjoyed it. I find all ‘your’ New England accents charming but confounding 🙂

      Yes, what is up with dropping the r’s ?!?

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