Thursday, July 31, 2008

An English Lesson - Aint, Haint, Haunt & Aunt.

Ok here is a little lesson in English, as it is spoken (so I believe) in Eastern Kentucky, where I was born and raised for awhile. It's very similar here in North Carolina, but a bit different.

Anyway, the lesson today concerns 4 words used back home - 3 are very common, one seems to be less common than it used to. This lesson concerns their pronunciation and usage.


Aint is a great word, I don't know its history, but I know it's quite old. It will never go away, no matter how much teachers and people who make up grammar rules want it to. I suppose it's a contraction. Back home, it seems to be used interchangeably with "is not". It aint mine. It shore aint yores. Very, very common.

(Just as an aside, I lived many years in the Baltimore, MD area. I heard 'aint' used there, by the city dwellers, in a way someone in Eastern Kentucky would have never used it, to my knowledge. I head people say things like "I aint did that", or "I aint said that". So they've taken a word that most educated people think is grammatically incorrect, and made it more so. More power to them, English is a living language, let it live, I say).


I hear haint a lot back home, and from what I could tell, its interchangeable with "aint". It haint mine. It shore haint yores. I personally never used the word, so maybe I missed the finer nuances. (Another aside. Someone back home who says haint, is quite likely to say hit instead of it. So the sentence becomes, "Hit haint mine, hit shore haint yores"). The thing about 'hit' though, is it can have the standard meaning, to strike something, or any other standard meaning hit may have, as well as being a different way of pronouncing 'it'. So you have to pay attention, and know the context.


Ok, first pronunciation: It sounds exactly like haint, which rhymes with aint. Second, usage. It's a noun, not a verb, and it means a ghost. To haunt, is something else entirely, but a haunt (remember to pronounce it haint) can scare the crap out of you. There's a line in an old song "aint no haunt gonna scare me off". Or is it haint no haunt?


Last but not least, Aunt. This is the person married to your uncle. But, it is pronounced "aint". Sounds exactly like aint, not ant, or heaven help me, ahnt.

That's it. Just remember, all these words rhyme with can't (pronounced caint), and you may be able to understand things a little bit better in a place like Knott County, Kentucky.

Ok, lesson over.

But here's something interesting (to me). I was in the Army at one time, stationed in Germany. I managed to stay there 4 years, when when I got out, I took a European Out, and set out for England, Scotland and Ireland. I had never been there, thought it possible I many never be there again, and I was going to enjoy it and see what I could see. I pretty much stayed there till the money ran out (just over a month), then got my government paid ticket home changed to leave from London instead of Munich, and all was right with the world. Here was the neat thing - I was in a country that spoke English (instead of German), but much of the time I'd have a hard time following what was being said. Accent, Dialect, Regionalisms, non-standard usage, all combined against me. Frequently my brain would be a syllable or two behind and I'd get lost. On the flip side, very few people had any problem understanding me, maybe because I spoke a little slower on average than they did (its a south of the Ohio River thing). Anyway it was great fun, I loved it, but eventually had to come home and face realities.

Years and years later, I find myself in line at a Roy Roger's Restaurant at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, in Maryland. Roy Rogers, for those who don't know, is a fast food place selling chicken, biscuits, burgers etc. Just ahead of me is this older gentleman who is British, nicely dressed, and seemed to speak a standard form of English (i.e., I could understand him). His turn came to order, and he ordered the two piece meal. The response he got from the gal behind the counter was straight from the streets of Baltimore: "We outta biscuit". He had no clue what she said - seeing it written it's easy, but hearing it, the way it was said, words run together, non-essential words left out, no plural, must have sounded very strange to him. She repeated: "We outta biscuit". Now biscuit means different things in England & America, but that's neither here nor there. This man did not understand. She repeated it a third time, a little louder: "We outta biscuit". Finally she realized, and said it with perfect grammar, though she had to think about it: "We don't have any biscuits". The neat thing is, I don't even think something like "we outta biscuit" qualifies as a dialect. Dont know, that's a later thought. Anyways, I smiled. I knew what the pore ol' feller was going through.

1 comment:

Ms. O. D. said...

i have a lot of experience like the British man... sort of reminded me of the time driving into Boston (I highly recommend one not drive inside the Boston area--an extreme nightmare) and we got lost trying to get to Harvard, stopped and asked a local for some directions, made the mistake of pronouncing Hahvad, Harverd... they were very keen on correcting me. it's Hahvad. okay. We got the directions, something something go there something something threwda Aaah-cccch. have no idea on what he said, so we just drove off, drove around and around in circles around the city and finally Hahvad just appeared out of nowhere.

til this day, we have no idea what he said, or how we found the campus.