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After 12 years in Colorado, the time has come for a change. The only problem is...I don't know where I want to live! Come with me (virtually, of course) across the country as I travel along all the rural roads, small towns, coastal regions, scrub-filled deserts, and damp, dark forests in Anywhere Else, America in search of a new home.

Yes, Ma'am

The diversity of accents and dialects in America is well known. If I name any of the following regions, you can likely instantly conjure up some corresponding speech patterns: Boston, Long Island, the Bronx, Wisconsin, and "the South." 

The South, however, does not have a monolithic accent. Where I was in West Virginia, for example, the people had a very mild accent, even though I was in the far south of the state. The same was true of Coastal Mississippi; the accent was often barely perceptible. I imagine, though, that people in the Mississippi Delta speak quite differently.

Then I got to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Everyone I talked to had a deep southern accent. You know the one I'm talking about, but in case you don't, here's a great example from the dialects archive. The full archive for Arkansas provides examples of the range of accents in this state, but there's something about Hot Springs that gives people a really southern sound. Maybe it's the water.

People in that area also use all the quintessential southern sayings, especially "yes, ma'am" and "yes, sir." In some cultures and circumstances, women of certain age might find being called "ma'am" offensive because it implies that the speaker is making a judgement call about your age. In Arkansas, you really can't be offended. You have to accept it as a polite way of speaking and nothing more. It is used for agreement and acknowledgement and even as "you're welcome." It's ubiquitous.

I was "yes, ma'am"ed no fewer than 100 times while I was there, by people of all ages and in all situations. Often service people were the ones saying it (the workers at the bathhouses, food delivery drivers, cashiers in stores, the host in the tourist welcome center), but the neighbors I spoke to used it as well in our casual conversations when answering questions I had about life in Hot Springs and Arkansas in general. 

I also volunteered at an ultramarathon for something to do one weekend and for more opportunity to mingle with locals. I was "yes ma'am"ed even by exhausted runners as I asked them if they needed water refills or more crackers with peanut butter. One of my fellow volunteers, the woman on the left in the photo below (Bonnie), had one of the heaviest accents I heard my whole time there. She was also fond of using that linguistic gem "fixin' to", which I quite enjoyed hearing in the wild.

three women in front of a table of food

Unrelated to Arkansas, but if you want a little twang and slang in your ear, I highly recommend the YouTube channel Celebrating Appalachia. The host is a charming woman who posts videos on everything related to the region, but especially on the speech

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