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Monday, August 08, 2005

Dude, Where's my Shibboleth?

I've always been interested in exclusionary shibboleths and Wikipedia is good, including shibbs for native English speakers as well as grammar.

I've been involved in my time in outing fakeroo Brits, by which I don't mean Americans trying to sound like Brits - Frasier is an egregious case and Magnum PI had a pompous old duffer in tow who talked with a plum in his mouth - but Brits themselves trying to sound like their betters.

You know the type: anchored by their low breeding and ghastly vowels, they take a crash course in elocution before zipping over to the US of A for instant self re-invention and the life of Riley pulling one over on the native populace.

There are also those clever Brits who come over and don't give a damn about their excruciating Estuary English or jarring northern tones but set about adding some very pleasant 'drawls' and elisions to their way of speaking, which sounds super to me and I wish I could do the same. Of course, these mid-Atlantic burrs are totally inaudible to the native American ear which is incapable of distinguishing between Australian, S'th Efrikan and English, let alone regional UK accents.

But my purpose here is to sing the praise of the word "dude", which no Englishman can pronounce right let alone set in correct context. This is a pity, because the last time I was back in the UK, not only did the whole population seem to possess and *be* on a cell phone, but every third word seemed to be an exhortationary "d-e-u-oo-de" - with all four vowels pronounced with exquisite clarity.

Not me. I daren't touch it. Unlike my compatriots who put faith in a slur here, an abused vowel there and trust to fate and wooden ears, ** I** have done my homework. May the wraith of the sainted Lebowski stand in judgment over me.

Plus, I have a secret weapon - an advisor on these matters of no mean stalwart dudicality himself.

His latest thoughts are just in:

"I've decided it's a matter of *rhythm*. For example, the following rings falsely American: "Dude, I remember being banished..."

I've always been bad with scansion, but the sentence that begins with "dude" needs to be followed with an iambic rhythm for at least the first two feet, so you have to hit the third syllable with something emphatic. "Remember" does not qualify.

(Isn't this amazing stuff? Suuch a pity that Bainbridge is too refined for such vocabulary or I might have been able to stir up a real Brains Trust discussion here and emerged the better for it.)

Another option (for those musically-inclined) would be to put a full rest between "Dude" and "I" by way of an exclamation mark: "Dude! I remember being banished..."

Though the first alternative that came to my mind was to go completely valley:

"Dude, I *totally* remember being banished..."

[Yess! I am like totally in favor of 'Valley' with everything - Busker.]

Other examples of the rhythmic emphasis:

  • "Dude, you're NOT going to touch that, are you?"
  • "Dude! Congratulations!" (See? I didn't think that users of "dude" even *touched* words like 'congratulations' - severely deprecated in the UK since being a song by Cliff Richard)
  • "Dude. Why don't you just step back."
  • Et cetera.
  • He ends on a plaintive note, that
    " 'Course, I just finished reading Alan Moore's "From Hell" graphic novel, and I'll be damned if I could figure out half of the cockney in there."

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