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Alex McRae Columnist

Published Sunday, July 22, 2012

Words matter

I don’t agree with President Obama very often, but he’s right when he says we all need to be more understanding of one other.

The late, lamented LA motorist Rodney King may have said it best when he asked, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Well, we can, Rodney. And I hereby vow to do my best to understand my fellow human beings a little better. Maybe a lot. With any luck, I’ll soon be like a miniature United Nations, spewing words of peace and harmony without moving a muscle to make things better.

My biggest problem is the same one the UN faces: a language barrier. When that gaggle of global morons gather, so many languages are being tossed around, the ill-fated tower of Babel comes to mind. No wonder they can’t get things done.

Even when communications are crystal clear, love and harmony don’t automatically break out.

Years ago I wrote a couple of stories about a young woman who — with apologies to Tennessee Williams —had always “depended on the kindness of strangers” to get by. She was a prostitute. And a drug user.

I couldn’t solve her problems, though I did encourage her to get treatment and drove her to a local shelter where help was available. I also bought her a couple of cheeseburgers.

I hadn’t seen her for a while when she walked up one day while I was chatting with some friends and asked me for some cash. I told her — quite honestly — that I didn’t have any. Instead of saying she’d see me later, she said “You’re the reason I hate white people!” and stalked off. Since she was Caucasian, too, I couldn’t allege a hate crime had been perpetrated.

My friends still tease me about that encounter. I didn’t like what she said, but I understood exactly what that woman meant. And that’s what the world needs now. Understanding. Especially in places like Syria and Iran and Atlanta, where a man who couldn’t find Dr. Phil’s number stomped on his wife’s Pomeranian and then beat his old lady with the dog until the pooch perished.

You can’t tell me they couldn’t have talked it out.

Unless of course, the man was a mizzle-witted bufflehead.

I can hear you asking, “Say what? What’s a mizzle-witted bufflehead?”

I would have had the same response before I discovered the Dictionary of American Regional English. What a whoopensocker. This gem of a publication is compiled by scholars at the University of Wisconsin. Joan Hall, Senior Scientist in the Department of English, is chief editor and has done great job of collecting words distinctive to a certain region or state. I browsed the publication online at: http://dare.wisc.edu and thoroughly enjoyed it.

(By the way, a whoopensocker is something unique and wonderful).

Naturally, it isn’t hard to find a few errors. Especially where the South is concerned. That’s to be expected when Yankees try to translate Southern, but all in all, it’s a glorious read. And a great reminder of how far most of us — including me — have yet to go when it comes to understanding each other.

And if we don’t, we’re all just a bunch of mizzle-witted buffleheads. Which, according to the dictionary, would be a collection of dimwits.

If we can’t understand each other, we can’t get along. I don’t have time to learn Mongolian or Urdu but you can bet that the next time someone from Virginia calls me “arky,” I’ll take it as a compliment.

Got to run now. But I’ll be faunching at you folks again soon.


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