Kathleen Kaska (Fifth-Saturday Blogger)
A few years ago, I sent a manuscript to the agent who was representing me at the time. She was appalled that my protagonist had the temerity to speed over a cattle guard on an unmarked the dirt road. There was no motive to my protagonist's wacky actions, according to her, and furthermore, this absurd incident wasn’t mentioned again in my story. And what did she have against this cattle guard anyway?
Her comments momentarily confused me. What was the big deal about driving over a cattle guard? How in the hell else was she supposed to get where she was going? It finally dawned on me that this young New Yorker hadn't a clue about ranch life. She assumed the cattle “guard” was a person, standing sentinel over some bovines. Fighting laughter, I gently explained this contextual cattle guard. She was good-natured enough to then allow some mutual chuckling.
In one of my writers’ critique groups, two members were confused about “she pulled the door to.” They wanted to know why I didn’t finish the action stated. “Pulled the door to what?” they asked. When I explained to them that “pulling the door to,” meant closing it without actually shutting it, they seemed unconvinced. To them, the door was either closed or it wasn’t.
Here’s another example. A reader chastised me about an expression in one of my mysteries. My protagonist had responded to something of no surprise to her by saying, “Well, slap me silly.” The reader thought the remark a bit extreme, bordering on masochistic. She couldn’t imagine someone asking to be slapped and why there wasn’t a comma before “silly.” I demurred. The reader obviously lacked a sense of humor.
My current mystery series is set mainly in the South and I use a lot of Southern expressions, which come naturally to me since I’m from Texas. My new series is set in Manhattan. Fortunately, I lived there a while and some Big Apple slang stuck with me. One of my favorites is “schmear” (a small amount or smear of cream cheese added to a bagel order. Living now in the Pacific Northwest, I was pleased to see this word on a local coffee shop menu. Is the world shrinking? Are we really becoming a global village? Have we reached the point where we all understand one another? I hope not. That would be boring.
Do any of ya’ll use similar regional slang or colloquialisms in your writing? Keep on!