Date: Wed, 19 Nov 1997 23:12:12 -0600


Subject: Re: "Merzouri"

Just what does 'er' spell?

Just what does 'er' spell?


The story ends with the Cracker telling another potential

customer, threatening him with a well worn knife, "Pertaters end

ternups, Mabin--but don't yer say aiggs, Mabin! Ef yer do, I'll

sample yer gizzard!"

The puzzle. Not too hard. This was South Carolina, where r-

lessness and r-fulness overlapped, If the spelling is accurate,

the fellow had the same vowel in the first and last syllables of

'potatoes' and the first syllable of 'turnips' as well as in 'you'

and 'your'. So, what was it? Not what present-day literal-minded

Americans assume, but a schwa-like sound that the British

represent with 'er' and some 19th-century American writers also

represented with 'er'. The words that provide the clinching

evidence are the two instances of 'you', which I really doubt were

pronounced as "spelled."

Mark A. Mandel :

Are you proposing that this SC dialect had an r-less schwa in

"turnips"? Is that plausible?


There would have been several dialects in the Columbia SC area at that

time. Yes, I am proposing (even claiming) that evidence in the spelling

indicates that the "Cracker" had r-less speech. He said 'you' and 'your'

the same way and the conventional eye-dialect spelling (at that time) of

the vowel sound in these words, as well as in 'pertaters' and 'ternups',

was -er-. No American would choose this spelling now, but over a century

ago this spelling seems to have worked for the "litterati" who were writing

these spoofs; it crops up in other stories in this genre. My Uncle Ed, who

grew up in northern Florida and called himself a Cracker, had r-less

speech, though he was much brighter than the hapless fellow in the story.

Uncle Ed said 'you' and 'your' alike -- just like the -er- vowel nuclei in

the other words. Spellings and verbal jibes in these stories written in

the mid-19th century indicated that the "educated" people, often but not

always outsiders, made fun of the dialects of bumpkins, which is part of

the "humor" of this story.