Subdividing the South

With all the new words being added to the public consciousness each year, perhaps we should consider new words for different parts of the South.

One friend, who grew up in Arkansas and lives here still, says that this is more Midwestern than Southern:

Many people consider me to be Southern, and while I often take it as a compliment (even if it wasn’t intended that way), it’s not one I deserve. Northwest Arkansas, in my opinion, is not the South. It has a great deal of history related to the Ozarks, people who didn’t take a side in the Civil War or fought with the Union. But it’s a completely different flavor from the South, where my folks grew up [west Tennessee and southern Georgia]. In the South, ladies wore (and wear) heals and pearls to football games, they speak with various Southern accents, none of which I’ve been able to master. My brother can imitate my south Georgia relatives, and we all fall in the floor laughing. My mother’s friend from Mississippi pronounces my name with four syllables, but it’s hardly Elizabeth. More like Liz-a-BAY-uth. They still hold debutante and coming-out parties in south Georgia, and many high school dances are still held separately for white and black students, or were combined in the last couple of years (check out NPR, and I’m obviously not endorsing that!).

In some ways, I can see where she’s coming from. Northwest Arkansas is growing rapidly, and I’d guess that many of the newcomers aren’t Southerners. Actually, I wouldn’t consider myself a Southerner, either, although for purposes of residence clarity, I will call myself an Arkansan. It seems a term such as Southerner or the South are more defined by history than by the present day. I’ll claim Arkansan, simply because it’s my state of residence. But Southerner? I’d have had to grow up in the South, and I didn’t.

I certainly agree that Arkansas is not part of the Deep South. (Hence the distinguishing term, though.)

As another friend (from Virginia) pointed out, the Southern states that are on the East Coast have characteristics that the other Southern states (including Arkansas, obviously) don’t share. This is something Arkansas shares with the Midwest, but it seems a weak way to argue that Arkansas is not part of the South, to say that it’s not Eastern. Alas.

According to all standard measures, Arkansas is part of the traditional South: It seceded from the Union. Arkansas is also part of the traditional Southern Democrat phenomenon. It certainly shares many of the characteristics of the South mentioned in A Prairie Home Companion‘s program from Georgia this weekend.

Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective: I’m Midwestern, and Northwest Arkansas isn’t that. Elizabeth’s from further south, and she more clearly sees the distinctions of this area from there.

Maybe we should take a cue from car commercials on TV, which subdivides many regions into smaller pieces and sort of creates new identities for their residents. Car commercials label Arkansas “mid-south,” and although it may not be coining a new word, it could work. Oklahoma is termed “southwest” by car commercials.

The U.S. Census Bureau classifies 16 states as Southern, and it further breaks them into divisions:
• The four East South Central states are Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee.
• The eight South Atlantic states are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
• The four West South Central states are Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas.

Aside from being clinical, though, these terms add confusion to the situation: Maryland wasn’t part of the Confederacy, and Oklahoma and Texas are not included in any definition of the South I’ve ever seen.

In the interim, I’ll continue using the standard, universal, traditional terminology when needed.

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One response to “Subdividing the South

  1. Pingback: Regional books: Midwest « Word Lily

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