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A Tribute to Americanisms, Grammatically Speaking

I heard this poem read by Garrison Keillor on Saturday evening while I was in Wyoming.  It made me a bit nostalgic and reminded me of my visit to New Zealand, as well as the times in which I went to other places where English is spoken but not like it is here.  It made me think of my friends Heather and Dovie, who are trying not to become British girls whilst living in London (some are trying harder than others, I think).  So here’s to you two, and here’s to one day visiting Lake Woebegone, Minnesota, where all the men are men, the women are strong, and the children are above average…
(ps-read this poem out loud)

“Ode to American English” by Barbara Hamby, from Babel © University of Pittsburgh Press.

I was missing English one day, American, really,
with its pill-popping Hungarian goulash of everything
from Anglo-Saxon to Zulu, because British English
is not the same, if the paperback dictionary
I bought at Brentano’s on the Avenue de l’Opera
is any indication, too cultured by half. Oh, the English
know their dahlias, but what about doowop, donuts,
Dick Tracy, Tricky Dick? With their elegant Oxfordian
accents, how could they understand my yearning for the hotrod,
hotdog, hot flash vocabulary of the U. S. of A.,
the fragmented fandango of Dagwood’s everyday flattening
of Mr. Beasley on the sidewalk, fetuses floating
on billboards, drive-by monster hip-hop stereos shaking
the windows of my dining room like a 7.5 earthquake,
Ebonics, Spanglish, “you know” used as comma and period,
the inability of 90% of the population to get the past perfect:
I have went, I have saw, I have tooken Jesus into my heart,
the battle cry of the Bible Belt, but no one uses
the King James anymore, only plain-speak versions,
in which Jesus, raising Lazarus from the dead, says,
“Dude, wake up,” and the L-man bolts up like a B-movie
mummy, “Whoa, I was toasted.” Yes, ma’am,
I miss the mongrel plentitude of American English, its fall-guy,
rat-terrier, dog-pound neologisms, the bomb of it all,
the rushing River Jordan backwoods mutability of it, the low-rider,
boom-box cruise of it, from New Joisey to Ha-wah-ya
with its sly dog, malasada-scarfing beach blanket lingo
to the ubiquitous Valley Girl’s like-like stuttering,
shopaholic rant. I miss its quotidian beauty, its querulous
back-biting righteous indignation, its preening rotgut
flag-waving cowardice. Suffering Succotash, sputters
Sylvester the Cat; sine die, say the pork-bellied legislators
of the swamps and plains. I miss all those guys, their Tweety-bird
resilience, their Doris Day optimism, the candid unguent
of utter unhappiness on every channel, the midnight televangelist
euphoric stew, the junk mail, voice mail vernacular.
On every boulevard and rue I miss the Tarzan cry of Johnny
Weismueller, Johnny Cash, Johnny B. Goode,
and all the smart-talking, gum-snapping hard-girl dialogue,
finger-popping x-rated street talk, sports babble,
Cheetoes, Cheerios, chili dog diatribes. Yeah, I miss them all,
sitting here on my sidewalk throne sipping champagne
verses lined up like hearses, metaphors juking, nouns zipping
in my head like Corvettes on Dexadrine, French verbs
slitting my throat, yearning for James Dean to jump my curb.


Comment from Mike
Time: 17 October, 2006, 1:40 am

While @ the “U” I worked in the next cubicle over from the guy who was Keillor’s academic advisor during GK’s undergrad days there.

Comment from Denys
Time: 17 October, 2006, 12:52 pm

That guy must be pretty old, becase GK is no spring chicken!

Comment from M.
Time: 17 October, 2006, 1:16 pm

Old is a relative term. Just wait! 😉

Good piece, for the most part. I will never anguish over the lack of anything x-rated, however. As you well know.

Comment from dovie
Time: 18 October, 2006, 2:40 am

I’m not TRYING to become British, but also not NOT trying to become British. I’m just goin’ with the flow, man. I mean, you know, whatever rubs off while I’m here will only last a little while anyway…I know you guys will beat it back out of me when I’m back in the homeland anyway.

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