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In Hendrickson, Robert. The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms. New York: Facts on File, 2000. p6 the introduction to "Whistlin' Dixie" we find (emphasis added):

Another Southern peculiarity is the use of ain’t among cultured speakers. Raven I. McDavid Jr. pointed out in American Speech that during interviews he made “nearly every cultural informant... in South Carolina and Georgia used ain’t at some time during the interview. In fact, one of the touchstones often used by Southerners to distinguish the genuine cultured speaker from the pretenders is that the latter are too socially insecure to know the proper occasions for using ain’t, the double negative, and other such folk forms, and hence avoid them altogether.”

Can anyone provide examples of the "proper" ("cultured") Southern use of ain't or the double negative, etc.? (Past web searches have produced only journalistic pieces along the lines of "10 things only a southerner would say..."; the cited work is the only good source of American regionalisms I have been able to find.) Contrasting improper usage also informative.

Illustrations from Georgia would be particularly appreciated.

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  • The proper occasion is presumably speech in an informal setting. Nov 7, 2022 at 12:32
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    @PeterShor It’s more of a way of sorting fluent speakers of Southern from people trying to ingratiate themselves by adopting the colloquialisms. Politicians like to put on a Southern facade when campaigning in the South. They ain’t foolin no-one. It’s entirely proper to use ‘ain’t’ or double negatives in a formal setting in some situations unless you’re taking to a Yank who might assume you’re uneducated.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 7, 2022 at 12:54

2 Answers 2

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Here is an example from the Southern American writer, Erskine Caldwell (born in Georgia in 1903). It contains both double negative and ain't in one sentence:

Now, I don't have nothing special against the Jews, except they ain't like us, but some of them moved in here and opened up a big store across the square over there selling just about what I do except furniture and hardware. (Deep South: Memory and Observation)

Another more recent author from Georgia, Olive Ann Burns (July 17, 1924 – July 4, 1990) writes in very informal conversational stile:

"All I know," he added, "is thet folks pray for food and still go hungry, and Adam and Eve ain't in thet garden a-theirs no more. (Cold Sassy Tree)

As for improper usage, I guess I would have to be a Georgian native to detect them. So if any user from Georgia passes by, give us a hand with that!

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  • Thank you... a nice start. Clarification request: the description of "Deep South..." says it "offers a rich mix of anecdotes, memories, interviews, and observations" and the quotation does not sound as though it is Caldwell's voice. Can you say why the 1st quote should be considered an example of "genuine cultured" speech? Nov 7, 2022 at 15:00
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    I don't like your choice of a 120 year old example of a Southerner being anti-Semitic to illustrate the proper use of ain't and double negatives. It just reinforces a stereotype that people who talk that way are ignorant. I'm not saying that there aren't ignorant Southerners, but surely there are better, more modern examples. Regardless, I lived in the South for decades and still haven't gotten the knack of it. I doubt two examples are from writers telling stories are going to be that useful.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 7, 2022 at 15:00
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    @JulianMoore That book is based on missionary home visits with the "elderly, sick, and poor of Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Florida." It's not reflective of the 'cultured' speech an author born in Georgia might use with his contemporaries.
    – ColleenV
    Nov 7, 2022 at 15:04
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As an irredeemable Northerner, my idea of "proper" ("cultured") Southern is Southern Living Magazine, so I did a quick search on its website and found some examples:

Maybe you’ve realized this college football season that your flat-screen just ain’t cutting it, in which case this 50-inch plasma TV (that blends into your wall like art when you’re not watching) is your best bet—on sale for 31 percent off. (Grace Smith, "Amazon’s Cyber Week Sales Aren’t Over—Here Are Steals Up To 71% Off You Can Still Get," 29 November 2022)

So if your aircon just ain't cutting it, it might be time to try out a super tiny, super powerful fan at home. (Kaitlyn Yarborough, "This $14 Amazon Fan With Over 10,000 Five-Star Reviews Is a Cold Breeze On a Hot Day," 29 June 2020)

The "about us" page notes that Yarborough "is a Georgia native".

It sure ain't Truman Capote, but hopefully this is more appropriate than the listicles that you were finding.

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  • Thank you for the interesting source and taking the trouble to respond; regardless of my quibbles I think I can make good use of this particular example. Quibbles: may I ask how you can tell that "proper" usage is intended, rather than "ain't" being used in a deliberately improper way (e.g. archly, for humour, a wink to a knowing audience)? Another possibility might be that "ain't" is a standard collocation with "cutting it" that is neither proper or improper. How does one know? Apr 8, 2023 at 9:05
  • @JulianMoore I don't know exactly how you define "proper", but I'm simply going off context. Those articles are very casual in tone but not humorous or arch. Yes, both examples use "ain't" with "cutting it", but I don't see why "ain't" would necessarily be more or less proper outside of that collocation. I assume that a more thorough search (of other Southern publications) would yield some results without "cutting it". Apr 10, 2023 at 13:23

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