Monday, January 18, 2016


Everyone who writes does, I will assume, love the language in which they work. I've heard it said that both Russian and Spanish are particularly worthy languages for the art of fiction, but as I don't speak either of those, I would not know. There are both Russian and Spanish authors whose work I much admire, but I will lay much of that affection at the feet of their translators.

There are many who claim that English is the best language for the creation of art in the form of fiction. Again, as I have no way to compare such claims, I cannot argue one way or the other. But I do love to write and I adore weaving the English language into forms that result in tales that are, I would hope, worth reading.

One thing about English is that it is so widely spoken and its reach so geographically vast that it has evolved madly. To such an extent that people who claim to speak it in one area of a given map can scarcely comprehend a person who speaks it on another spot on that same map. And it doesn't have to be a global map (although the English language indeed has a global reach). Someone who speaks a dialect of English in one part of a continent may not be able to understand the speech of a person who speaks it from a different portion of a continent. The fictional character of Professor Henry Higgins claimed to be able to pinpoint a person's birthplace to within a block or so by the twang of their dialect. I think this is exactly so.

I live in the southeastern USA. I am from the south. In fact...I am of the South. In previous points on my blog I have spoken about southern dialects. They are many and varied and strange. As before, I have to point out that my own dialect of English is not just southern, but low-country southern. You run into it if you travel along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the southern states. And even there you will encounter different such dialects--gullah, and cajun to mention a couple. And on the North Carolina Outer Banks you might even bump into folk who speak with a vague, twisted New England accent (although their numbers are dwindling). Nor'easters, they're called. Fishermen who migrated south from Massachusetts and other northern spots to ply the rich banks of fish and shrimp.

But as I know my own low-country Georgia accent the best, I have always tended to focus on its charms and warts, poisons and flowers.

Recently I was reminded of a phrase from here in the South that, when I use it, people from other parts of the English-speaking world seem not to understand. They don't get it. A few weeks ago I used it when talking to some people from the Midwest and they were confused and couldn't quite fathom what I meant.

And that term was "needed killin'".

As in, "That boy needed killin'." In reference to someone who was just so awful or so dangerous or so socially and morally wasted that the best thing was for them to have met death.

This is well illustrated by one of my old, departed friends, a gigantic figure of mirth and occasional violence we knew as Jesse Willis. Jesse claimed to be descended from the family of Jesse James, and I never denied it. The story seemed to fit his enormous frame and his billowing personality. One day Jesse and I were talking about southerners who were known for their bloody ways. Being an old working class southerner, Jesse knew a lot about such people and had indeed lived close to such people (his father was, shall we say, employed at the edges of the legal world, one of his ongoing concerns at one time having been a borderline illegal drinking joint named Hooterville).

At any rate, Jesse had encountered a number of men of rage and violence in his years working for his father. And we began to talk of such folk who had walked the dirty earth of his native state, South Carolina. Jesse eventually came to the topic of the life of one Pee Wee Gaskins who was a famous creature known to all who lived at that time in South Carolina. Gaskins had been convicted of murder at least twice, and claimed to have a very high body count of victims for whose deaths he had never faced trial. "They can only electrocute you once," Jesse said.

Willis told me details of the crimes of Gaskins which I did not know. A hired murderer, he would apparently kill anyone if the price was right. Toward the end of his life, Jesse had related to me, Gaskins was asked if he regretted any of those killings. It turned out there had been just one: an infant.

When Jesse told me that we both just kind of stared into the nothingness that you see when confronted with even the idea of such a crime. There was a moment of silence as we both, I reckon, thought of a baby being killed by someone for a bit of money.

"Yeah, Pee Wee Gaskins just needed killin'," he said.

I agreed.

Brad Dourif once played Pee Wee Gaskins in the made-for-TV movie VENGEANCE: THE TONY CIMO STORY.

Leslie Howard as Henry Higgins. Why? Because...contrast.

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