Skip to main content

The Scientific Reason for the Southern Drawl


The secret revealed

I was born and reared in the Deep South, part of an old Southern family. As a result, I have a distinct Southern drawl. Even fellow Georgians think I have somewhat of an accent. In fact, my voice is pretty memorable. Most people recognize my phone voice after hearing it only once. When I call an area business, most of the time the receptionist on the other end responds with something like, “How are you today, Mrs. Abee?” as soon as I utter a couple of syllables. I still haven’t decided if this is a curse or a blessing.

When I was a kid, I often found the drawl to be advantageous. I grew up in a neighborhood near Interstate 75, a main route for Northern tourists on their way to sunny Florida. My best friend, Beth (hubber Randy Godwin’s wife), who also has a terribly wonderful drawl, and I used to collect soft drink bottles for extra money. We’d drag my red wagon around and fill it with the glass treasures. Once we had a sufficient quantity, we’d take the bottles to a gas station at a nearby interstate exit to cash them in.

On more than one occasion, some Yankees who were buying gas heard us conversing with the attendant. I guess they thought we were cute little Southern kids, and they were fascinated by our drawl.

A typical scenario:

“Bob, come listen to these little girls!”

Bob (or James, John, or Peter) would come over to join his wife.

“Okay, talk for us!”

Beth and I would usually just look at each other, perplexed. What does one say when asked to talk? We were usually dumbfounded for a few minutes. The Northerners probably thought they had stumbled upon a Deliverance-like scene – IF the movie had been made earlier. Heck, Mr. Dickey wouldn’t even have written the book yet. This was in the sixties.

The couple would finally start asking us questions to loosen our tongues.

“What kind of church do you attend?”

Beth: “Baptist.”

Me: “Presbyterian.”

Yankee tourist: “Presbyterian?? I thought everyone down here was Baptist! Bob – did you here that? This child is a Presbyterian!”

The questions would continue until the visitors had listened to their fill of Southern-speak. Oftentimes, they’d give us a dollar or buy us a cold drink. Our moms had told us not to take candy from strangers, but they’d never mentioned Coca-Colas or Nehi grapes, so I figured we were safe.

Our Northern visitors usually made a remark about our suntans, too. By March or April, our skin was baked brown by the Georgia sun. We practically lived outdoors. We learned to tell quickly if the Yankees were on their way to Florida, or if they were returning from a Florida vacation. In the first case, they were pasty white, and in the latter, they were red and/or peeling. In either case, they were usually wearing baggy shorts, a tee shirt, and socks with sandals. And they always talked funny.

But what gives us Southerners such a drawl? I’ll let you in on a well guarded secret: it’s the grits. We eat a lot of grits. While Northern babies were slurping cream of wheat or rice cereal in their first attempts at eating solid foods, we were cutting our teeth on grits. A small amount would be taken from the family breakfast pot and thinned with a little milk or formula.

What are grits? For those depraved souls who don’t know what grits are, they’re a form of corn. Corn is dried, soaked in lye, and rinsed to make hominy. The hominy is then dried and ground into grits. The grits are boiled with water, and salt and butter are added. Sometimes cheese is melted into the grits.

How do we eat grits? Of course, they're a big part of a hearty Southern breakfast. Sometimes we mix them with soft-scrambled eggs, and sometimes we stir in crumbled bacon. Grits are also great with shrimp and fried fish. The food also serves as a base for some casserole dishes. Leftover grits are sometimes spooned into a glass, allowed to cool and firm, and then sliced and fried.

How do grits cause the Southern drawl? It's all very scientific. The hydrogen chains in the corn kernels are altered when exposed to lye. They ultimately release a chemical called “drawlarium.” Drawlarium acts as a depressant on the tongue and larynx, making them work more slowly. On some people, it also inhibits making the “r” sound, especially at the end of a word. For example, “watah” instead of water, “peppah” instead of pepper, and “rivah” instead of river. Extra syllables are often added, too, as a direct result of drawlarium: war becomes “wawuh,” well becomes “way-uhl,” and glass becomes “glay-us.”

Scroll to Continue

Interestingly, this phenomenon is not limited to humans. Southern dogs that are habitually fed leftover grits bark differently than their Northern counterparts. Instead of “Ruff!,” such canines utter more of a “Ruh-wuf.” No studies have been done on felines.

I hope you appreciate the fact that I’ve shared this secret information with you. When word gets out, I probably won’t get invited to any fish fries, low country boils, or pig pickin’s for years. See what I’m willing to sacrifice for the sharing of knowledge?


Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on September 23, 2010:

Eat those grits, Nancy!

nancy_30 from Georgia on September 13, 2010:

Great hub. I enjoyed reading this very entertaining hub. I don't really have a drawl. My husband says I sound like a Yankee. Maybe I need to start eating more grits.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 13, 2010:

That is TOO funny!! On much of the FL panhandle, they speak Southern like we do!

myawn from Florida on August 12, 2010:

I was born in S.Carolina and my mom. My dad was born in Georgia. So when I started school in Florida my teacher couldn't understand a word I said. I had to take a speech class and learn to talk all over again. I guess it was all that grits and fish I ate.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 12, 2010:

Thanks, HH. How about you??

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 12, 2010:

I am sorry to hear that. Wish you speedy recovery.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 11, 2010:

Thanks, Mystery! I'll check out your hub now.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 11, 2010:

Hi, Granny! How ya been?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 11, 2010:

Any time, Laurel. Just don't laugh at my accent!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 11, 2010:

Anne, I figured you knew all about the grits secret!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 11, 2010:

FCEtier, sorry I didn't include the acronym, but I've very familiar with it. In fact, I am a GRITS!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 11, 2010:

Deb, grits would have fixed you right up!

mysterylady 89 from Florida on August 11, 2010:

A clever explanation for our Southern accent! I'll never forget the time a Jewish student commented that she had never before heard Yiddish spoken with a Southern accent! Bty, have you read my Mark Twain hub yet? As a teacher, you might find it interesting.

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on August 11, 2010:

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on August 11, 2010:

Holle, funny story. Another great hub.

Laurel Rogers from Bishop, Ca on August 11, 2010:

I was just kidding, but I just may do that. :)

msannec from Mississippi (The Delta) on August 10, 2010:

Lol, love it, love it, love it! I knew there was a good explanation for the accent, and I knew grits were in there somewhere. Great hub!

Chip from Cold Mountain on August 10, 2010:

I love grits!

I may have missed it, but did you mention the acronym,






Elder DeBorrah K Ogans on August 10, 2010:

Habee, That was GREAT! You are so hilarious! You are also a real Southern Belle! I now understand when I visited New Orleans years ago they told me to say Nawlings instead! I should of just had some grits! lol! Thank you for sharing, In HIS Love, Peace & Blessings! Have A WONDERFUL DAY !!!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

Buckie, I was hoping you'd stop by! Love the word "drowl."

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

HH, I'm still having some sporadic pain, but I'm MUCH better! Thanks for asking!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

Yep, V - it's all about the grits!

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on August 09, 2010:

So you are saying that if I eat some grits, I'll come by a drawl naturally? That is so bogus! And it is TOO hilarious! I'm gonna try it on Griff though and if he ends up with a drawl and howl (would that be drowl then), I'm gonna video it and make a fortune! I'll give you a cut though since you had the idea and gave me the low-down on grits...or was that llllau-dauunnn?

Thanks for the giggles, sister!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 09, 2010:

It is unbelievable. I am still jumpy and trembling in case it goes again. I tried to read to take my mind off - five lines and I couldn't concentrade. I am not kidding. It really was like that. You know I have the hub-addiction and withdrawal symptons are terrible. Thank you for your sumpathy.

You didn't tell me how you are getting on. Are you alright with your new medicine?

Veronica Allen from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

So grits has been the culprit all along huh? That explains everything so well.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

Funny, Katie! See? It's those danged grits! lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

Want me to teach ya, Bpop??

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

HH, that's terrible!! HOW did you survive??

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

Laurel, if you really want to talk on the phone, email me!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

De Greek, I bet you'd like my Southern drawl!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

Scribe, my middle daughter has a drawl yet talks fast. Weird, huh??

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 09, 2010:

Now you know why, Mick! lol

Katie McMurray from Ohio on August 09, 2010:

This is so neat, I was born in Illnois, raised in Indiana and spent a few years in Kentucky but have lived in Ohio for the other half of my life and every once in a while someone will ask me if I'm from the south. I have a lot of southern speaking relatives and it just sorta sticks I think, I can be around them for ten minutes and be sounding deep south in no time. PLUS I love grits with salt and pepper and LOTS of REAL butter!

breakfastpop on August 09, 2010:

Great hub. I love the southern drawl and often wish I had one!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on August 09, 2010:

Thank you, habee, for your interesting hub. I love to read and learn about things like that. Thank you. I hope this finds you well. Take care. For over four days I had trouble with my computer. The agony. No comment to write and hubs.

Laurel Rogers from Bishop, Ca on August 08, 2010:

Ah wannah tawuk ta yah on da foahn, den. Wha-at's yawah numbuh, hun?

Seriously, Holle, when I lived in B'ham, everything pointed to the laid-back life there. Phooey on your science of the drawl, I caught mine just kickin' it on the porch!

De Greek from UK on August 08, 2010:

“way-uhl” ?????? Seriously? That bad eh? You poor thing :-))

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on August 08, 2010:

Habee, I am like Martie...I talk too fast and while I just adore the Southern accent just like those Yankees from the would certainly raise a few eyebrows talking "Southern" at warp speed. That said, those grits recipes sound yummy so I may just risk checking out the scientific aspect of your theory!

Micky Dee on August 08, 2010:

I knew my dog barked funny! Of course I was born without any accent at all. Everybody else seems to talk funny though!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 08, 2010:

Kinda like rolling the r's in Spanish? I can do that!

Martie Coetser from South Africa on August 08, 2010:

LOL! No, I speak so fast people have to stop me at the end of my 2nd sentence because they've lost me during the 1st. Oh gosh, I'm a gramophone playing LP's (45's or was it 33's) at the speed of 77. (Oh, I've forgotten those speeds of LP's, seven singles and those what-did-they-call-it 76's or 77's.) But I do have a little accent on my 'r', emphazising it a bit. In English you don't really produce a 'r' sound, but in Afrikaans we produce it thoroughly rrrrrrrr - a trilling tongue right on the front pallet behind the front teeth. 'Rrred rrrrive' rrrrock.' For English you don't develop the tongue to make this sound. You will say 'rwed rwiva rwock'. :-)

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 08, 2010:

Thanks, Melinda! People seem to either love or hate the drawl - not much in between. lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 08, 2010:

Nifty, I hadn't considered the heat. Maybe it plays a part, too!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 08, 2010:

Thanks for the info, Martie! The dish sounds much like our grits. Does it make you speak slowly?? lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 08, 2010:

Larry, it's so good to see you! How ya been?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 08, 2010:

Scribe, you all don't want no Southern d r a w l?? lol

msorensson on August 07, 2010:

Oh so son and I used to talk about this..the Southern drawl I think it is endearing actually.

nifty@50 on August 07, 2010:

Great hub! The first time I really heard someone with a strong southern accent was my sixth grade teacher (it really bent my ear!) After living in Georgia off and on since 1973, I have a slight accent (so my relatives tell me)which becomes more pronounced when I speak to someone who has a heavy accent! I'll use "fixin to" or "Yall" instead of "going to" or "you guys". I wonder if the extreme heat makes people talk and move slower (especially going back to pre air conditioner days!)

Martie Coetser from South Africa on August 07, 2010:

Habee, this was so interesting. I – (depraved soul) - quickly checked grits in my dictionary: “Coarsely ground hulled corn boiled as a breakfast dish in the southern United States.” Interesting, indeed! Our main starch food in SA is also (white) corn, but grounded into ‘fine white maize meal’. You cook this in water (with salt). The more meal you use, the thicker the dish. For cereal, with sugar or honey, milk and butter, you’ll do the more liquid dish. The solid dish you eat for breakfast with eggs and bacon, or for lunch/supper with any meat and tomato-and-onion-gravy. The latter, with optional ingredients such as mushrooms, green peppers, etc. - if you want to impress your guests - is a MUST at barbeques. The people in the southern part of our country (Cape Province) regard this, unfortunately, as ‘common’ food. They replace this with bread and sweet potatoes. And they do have a distinct accent, but I don’t think a lack of corn is to blame. Thought you might find this info interesting. Thanks for a great hub!

Larry Conners from Northern Arizona on August 07, 2010:

Hi habee...Funny, I'm unable to detect even a smidgen of drawl in your many wonderfully written hubs...But then you were an English Lit teacher, so maybe the drawl doesn't translate to the written word...Grit is a word we Californians call that hard to reach crud that gathers in the corners of the kitchen floor...But then, true grit in someone has my respect and admiration...something definitely lacking in the present occupant of our White House...

My grandmother, from Missouri, used to serve us kids creamy grits laced with maple syrup...yummers.! Never did develop a drawl tho, but then, we had to maintain our California cool...

Love your humor as always...thank you for sharing this Southern secret...Larry

Maggie Griess from Ontario, Canada on August 07, 2010:

Guess I better stay away from the grits! LOL.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Ictodd, I'd stick out in NYC like a hoe cake in a bowl of arugula!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Actually, drbj, I'm fairly precise in my pronunciation - just slow! Hubby, on the other hand, talks the way you mention.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Gpage, so glad you stopped by. I'm glad you enjoyed the read!

Linda Todd from Charleston on August 07, 2010:

habee, I have the same drawl...except I was raised in Mississippi. I lived in Atlanta after I lived in Colorado where they did not have corn bread dressing. AND yes I have people who have mocked me or said; say that again???? When I worked in New York (as I used to travel with my job) you can only imagine.....

Great hub as always habee....

drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 07, 2010:

Thanks for the funny hub, habee. I have learned that folks with a true lovely Southern drawl call wrought iron "rot arn." Does that describe you, too?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

HP, I feel blessed to have been born a Southerner!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Yep, Rob - it's def the grits!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Pamela, kudos on attaining a drawl! Now you won't be accused of being a Florida Yankee! lol

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Sheila, I think it's the baked beans!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Pam, your grandmother and I have something in common - good ol' Southern baaahh-bahh-quuueee!!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Dusty, it's difficult marrying outside your ethnic group. I married a fellow Southerner - from NC. I swear, he talks more Southern than I do!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on August 07, 2010:

Thanks, Woody! You'd be very entertained down South!

GPAGE from California on August 07, 2010:

habee! I really enjoyed this! Reminded me of family in Georgia.....wonderful memories!

I also experienced people asking ME to talk when I was in England! They got such a kick out of my American accent that sounds like i have travelled many places especially New York!!!!!! Always nice to entertain! Best, G

H P Roychoudhury from Guwahati, India on August 07, 2010:

You are lucky Madam; God has given you nice Southern drawl.

Rob from Oviedo, FL on August 07, 2010:

So that explains it. I have an Aunt who was born in Scotland but has lived in the South for most of her life and she speaks like a southerner. Now I know why. It's the grits. Thanks.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 07, 2010:

Habee, This hub is hysterical! When I was 18 I moved to NC and believe me in this small town they had a drawl. I never lived down being the Yankee as I was from OH. I learned to eat grits that year and it worked on me too. I never totally lost my mid-western voice but those grits sure gave me some new phrases. Very funny, rated up!

sheila b. on August 07, 2010:

Grits, hmmm? I wonder what they eat in Boston for that accent.

Pam Roberson from Virginia on August 07, 2010:

EXCELLENT!!! What a brilliantly funny connection! Something drew me here this morning--just for a few seconds, and I'm so happy that it did. :) This gives me the warm fuzzies because my grandmother had the most beautiful drawl...she loved a good bahhh-bah-quuueeee sandwich. ;)

50 Caliber from Arizona on August 07, 2010:

Holle, grits are a daily side around here, this is great fun! I have, in the past hauled my late wife to Tennessee for a visit and I remember her just being shocked and asking me how I could understand what every one was saying.

Though not raised in the south my family originated there and much of the drawl was fresh when I was a kid and over the years my dad went to 50/50 speak so I was quite familiar with it. It was funny to watch her almost get pissed over being out of the loop of verbal connotations. She refused to return with me on another visit because she said she couldn't understand anyone.

buttons up!, 50

Woody Marx from Ontario, Canada on August 07, 2010:

Thank goodness someone has finally solved this mystery! I have wondered about it for years, and being a Canadian I love to hear the drawl as it is so full of character and colour (things Canadians often lack) and your explanation is completely believable. And very funny. ;)

Related Articles