One time, as we made a big deal about crossing the state line, our son asked, "Do they speak English here?" If you're in Branson, the answer is "Not really." The official Branson language? Hillbilly English, technically, but Southern-twang, crossed with folksy Ozark Mountain-ese is not available on Rosetta Stone.
It's no wonder the local language in Branson is an issue for visitors. Check out the license plates as you're inching along Highway 76, past all the country music theaters. They're from all over the country, and a few are even from outside the country. How will these poor tourists be able to decipher what's being said? Will they spend their entire vacation saying, "Pardon me?" or "Excuse me?" or "Could you please repeat that?"
I grew up here. Maybe I can help. My great-grandpa rode a mule and taught in a one-room schoolhouse. My grandparents slurped their coffee from saucers, not cups. My parents ran a gas station along I-44, so I'm used to strangers blinking with that blank stare, the expression saying, "Huh? What did you just say?"
I'll talk slow as sorghum oozing off a spoon and soon, you'll "figger" out the Branson slang.
1. "You all," not "Y'all"
If you're from anywhere in the South, you may feel like I do whenever any Hollywood-type attempts a southern accent. Notice how all their southern accents sound exactly the same, as if you twang any word, leave off the "g" in the "ing," and throw in a couple of "y'alls," then you're good?
Puh-lease. I don't talk like an Okie. I don't talk like an Arkie. I talk like an Ozarky. In Branson lingo, we don't really say "y'all." Listen closely. Most natives actually say "You all," as in, "Are you all comin' over?" or "When you all are done, just holler."
2. "Youns" is an actual pronoun (the plural being "younses")
Ok, so I thought everybody used the word "youns" (sounds like "yoonz," or, "you-uns"), until my cousin Rhonda visited from Oregon and nearly choked on her sweet tea when I asked, "Are youns goin' swimmin' with us?"
I repeated it, but made it plural, to add in her whole family and clarify myself: "Are younses goin' swimmin' with us?"
"Younses? You mean me? Or all of us?"
"Well, duh. Ain't that what I just said?"
She laughed. I repeat. She laughed.
After that, I worked on changing my personal references to "you all." But, as I've moved around during my adult life, anytime I've ever heard someone use "youns" or "younses" and I'm not in the Ozarks, I've braved the question, "Are you from southwest Missouri?" And of course, they are.
Translated: "Hello. How are you doing?" It will probably not be punctuated with an exclamation mark, but come out in calm monotone.
In the old days, it was "How do?" and evolved into one word.
If you're riding the train at Silver Dollar City, the 1800s-style amusement park in Branson, the conductor will yell, "Howdy, folks!" He expects a "Howdy!" right back. (For the record, if a native knows you well and asks how your folks are doin', she's talkin' 'bout your parents.)
4. "Have some maters and taters."
You can't beat "homegrowed," fresh-from-the-Ozark-garden tomatoes, sliced and salted. If you fry up some potatoes in bacon grease and salt those too, you, sir, will be dining on official "maters and taters," Branson slang for a hillbilly-style summer supper.
5. "Missou-ree," not "Missour-uh" (and it's not funny to call it "Misery")
We don't have a Mason-Dixon line here, but there's an imaginary line mid-Missouri. The southern part pronounces the state's name "Missour-ee," as we do in Branson local language. Those dadgummed northern types say "Missour-uh."
When I attended college in Springfield, Missour-ee, I didn't find it one danged bit funny whenever the homesick out-of-staters called my home "Misery."
6. "Whatcha hurry?"
"Whatcha/doncha/didja" fall into the same category in Branson lingo. Why waste time sayin', "What do you" or "Don't you" or "Did you," when you can smooth-talk out one word vs. two or three?
While on the time management subject, small-town Ozarkers scratch their heads at why the rest of the world seems in such a rush. My grandma remarked, "Where's the fire?" or "Why doncha sit down a spell and stay a while?"
Speaking of Grandma, during conversations, she peppered in, "We-ell" after each thing you said, meaning, "I see" or "Very interesting" or "Go on, tell me more." When something astonished her, she said, "We-ell, I'll be."
8. "Watch them there citified people"
If you're an out-of-towner or out-of-stater, you'll be considered an outsider and watched. This is the "Show-Me State" mentality. If you attempt to fit in, be patient.
I warned my L.A.-born husband about this when he started working as a manager. "People want to see if you're who you say you are and what you're like. Don't rush it. Just keep being yourself and eventually, you'll be their friends for life." A year later, he commented how true that had been. We consider ourselves friendly, but we take our time getting to know you.
The worst thing you can be called in these parts is "high-and-mighty," as in, "Well, don't she just think she's Miss High-and-Mighty?" If you think you're better than us, we-ell, we won't tell you you're rude, but we'd rather you took yourself down a peg or two.
"Country-fied," on the other hand, is the opposite of "city-fied" in Branson language, meaning "down-to-earth," "good people" or "something good about country life." Please don't confuse this with "country-fried" which covers half the café menu.
10. "I knowed it" or "I ain't" or "I ain't never"
Thanks to a college professor who repeatedly corrected me, I became educated about proper grammar. I'm perfect on paper, but catch myself falling back into familiar patterns for down-home conversations. And since all my grandparents are gone now, I wish I could hear them say any of these phrases one more time.
One last note: What's the difference between a "hillbilly" and a "redneck"?
My husband travels internationally on business. Once, someone in another country asked him this. He called me for help. I said, "A hillbilly shoots something because he's hungry. A redneck shoots something because he can."