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What Is Missouri?- John Samuel Tieman

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Axar.az presents an article "What Is Missouri?" by John Samuel Tieman.

So someone on TV asked the other day, “Where is Missouri?” I think he wanted to ask, “What is Missouri?” I expect my friends in Azerbaijan to know little about my state. But many Americans likewise know from little to nothing about my home.

Missouri is a “flyover” state, right? Isn't it one of those M-I-something places, Minnesota, Michigan, Mississippi, one of those? They say “Midwest”, but what is it – is it in the middle, or is it in the west? Or is it southern? Don't Missourians speak with a southern accent?

Where is Missouri? We live at the mean center of the United States. There are a variety of calculations to determine the center, but, to quote a fellow Missourian, “Thems ain't nuthin' no how.” In Standard English, we're it. We're the center. Why do you think everyone has to “fly over” us to get anywhere?

What is Missouri? A friend went to the airport to pick up a guest from somewhere out east. The guest started speaking like he was some drunken Texan comforting a dying armadillo he'd just run over. My friend finally asked. The guy explained that he was just being polite, and speaking in a Missouri accent. We speak the Midlands Dialect Of American English. There are variations of the dialect. Some of us sound like Huckleberry Finn, that's true. Most of us sound like the CBS Nightly News. We're not southerners. Nor are we westerners, northerners, easterners. And just because some of us use “y'all”, that doesn't make us southerners. Please note that many of us say, “all of you.” Well, OK, and “you'ns”. But many of us actually speak Standard English.

What do people know about Missouri?

Six million folks live in Missouri. About three million live in Greater St. Louis, and another two million live in the Kansas City area. Both of these metropolitan areas cross two state lines. So you want to picture the average Missourian? The average Missourian is a suburban woman reading her “St. Louis Post-Dispatch” on her lunch break at her high-rise office.

A lot of folks want to picture Missourians as small-town folks. OK. In “Waiting For Guffman”, Parker Posey's character, Libby Mae Brown, the perky Diary Queen employee, yes, that is one kind of small-town Missourian. So is Sheryl Crow. President Harry Truman was a small-town Missourian.

I resent the stereotype – fly over country, a bunch of hoosiers. We have great universities. The Arch is perhaps the most beautiful, or at least the largest, abstract sculpture in the world. We fry the finest catfish, and most years play some of the sweetest baseball in either league. We are the home of Langston Hughes, William Least Heat-Moon, William Burroughs, Reinhold Niebuhr, Vincent Price, John Goodman, T. S. Eliot and Josephine Baker. Anna Marie Bullock, known to the world as Tina Turner, graduated from Sumner High School in St. Louis, Class of 1958, and it was here she got her start in music. Scott Joplin wrote some of his finest music here. Heidi Gardner, of “Saturday Night Live”, hails from Kansas City.

Then there's the natural beauty. To drive through the Ozarks in the early morning, when the fog still lies low in the valleys, is to yield to more shades of blue and gray than any language ever named.

Then there's racism. There's virtually segregated schools, economic injustice, and white flight. The greatest pain of racism is to tell someone that, because of the color of their skin, they will spend their life unwanted, unloved, uncared for. That pain, that is as All-American as the balk or a double play.

I resent the “hoosier” implication, that Missourians are unsophisticated. Just because we speak the Midlands Dialect Of American English, that's no reason to presume that on weekends we all go recreational cow tipping. Some of us go to the symphony. Missouri is a very conservative, true. Yet my congressional district is represented by a socialist, Cori Bush. In my neighborhood, you'll run into lots of Hasidic Jews but nary a hillbilly. That said, we've seen folks who have traded teeth for meth. It happens. It's just not as common as folks think. Which brings us back to that accent. Neither my wife nor I pronounce it “Missour-ah”. That said, my wife and I met at Washington University here, in St. Louis. She hates it when I pronounce it “Wa-R-shington.”

2023.11.20 / 09:39
John Samuel Tieman
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