What's Wrong with Having 'America's Ugliest Accent'?
PittGirl points out why we 'Burghers shouldn't hide the fact that we won Gawker's competition.
PHOTO BY EMILY LEVENSON
According to voters who weighed in for a super-legitimate Gawker online contest conducted in NCAA March Madness format, the Pittsburgh accent is the “ugliest” in America.
Ugly. The polar opposite of beauty. Putrescence of tongue, so to speak.
When it was announced that Pittsburgh “won,” beating out the discordant intonation and inflection of the accents of Boston, Atlanta and Philly, some ’Burghers were the most upset they’d been since GQ called us the third worst-dressed city in the country (let’s wear that black shoe with white socks — OK, guys?).
For a moment, put that anger at this “insult” aside, yinz, and let’s be honest about this: The Pittsburgh accent isn’t exactly the most soothing nor melodious sound as it scrapes across the eardrums. It has ridges of harshness. Even our Pittsburghese has hard edges. Yinzzzz. JAGoff. Nebby. Our long “A”s can sound like “eee-ahs,” and our “ahs” can sound like “ahrs.” “Doing” becomes . . . I don’t even know how to phonetically spell this — because it doesn’t rhyme with any legitimate word in the English language: doyn?
There’s even a harshness to the construction of our sentences as we sprinkle double negatives on them and eschew “to be” whenever possible for the sake of saving time.
My mother likes to tell the story of the time she and my father were out of town and walking through a parking lot, when my mother simply said the word “no” to my father. A man near them asked, “Hey! Are you from Pittsburgh? I could tell by the way you said ‘no.’”
Compared to the accents of other American cities, Pittsburgh’s is distinct. Rougher. Harder. More abrasive. And internationally speaking, it really begins to pale. It doesn’t have the breezy playfulness of the Australian accent, the curly musical frills of the French accent or the absolute majestic glory of the English accent. A man with an English accent could say, “My mucus is phlegmy,” and American ladies would strongly consider throwing their bras at his feet in ecstasy all, “Oooh. Now say, ‘My pimple is painful.’”
Speak in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter an ode of love in your best Pittsburgh accent, and it will still sound like a bowling ball felling pins.
And I love that.
Sure, in 2014 there are many Pittsburghers who either have been raised without a Pittsburgh accent or made a conscientious effort to remove it from their spoken word. But sit in Market Square or at a sporting event, and your ears surely will be assaulted by the unmelodious tones of “warsh,” “dahn ‘ere n’at” and “dem jagoff Flahrs” (or: “them jagoff Flyers”).
It sounds, as I said earlier, rough and discordant. To me, and I hope to you, that’s the beauty of it. It was forged in industry, in mines, in mills, in blast furnaces, in diners and around the family dinner table after a long, hard day at work. It represents the harshness of our past. It represents hard work — building a world-class city out of nothing but the materials found in the ground and the waters that embraced it. It represents an unflinching sense of self-worth. It represents not caring what others think. It represents Saturdays in the Strip and Sundays on the North Side. It represents calloused hands and weathered eyes. It represents seasons and bridges and chipped chopped ham and pierogies and church. It represents steel and rivers and passion and above all . . . REALNESS.
So for that, I am proud of it, and you should be, too.
Because it doesn’t have to sound pretty . . . to be a thing of beauty . . . n’at.