Grammar Moses: You talk funny. No YOU talk funny.

Updated 2/18/2023 5:25 PM

It's not every day I get an avalanche of mail from readers of this column.

But then it's not every day I get my dander up and essentially call something stupid.


Last Sunday I wrote about a silly attempt to draw attention to a website that purports to help improve your writing.

The PR person who took that job is probably rueing the day it landed on his desk.

Writing Tips Institute says it polled 3,000 Americans on whether they would support a law protecting their states' individual dialects.

My point: Illinois doesn't have one dialect. Nor does it have two or three. And besides, how does one enforce a law that so clearly, as reader Dennis Nowicki pointed out, is an affront to the First Amendment of the Constitution?

"Right on," he wrote, clearly putting himself in my age group. "There is no need for more laws that are near impossible to enforce and that further negatively impact free speech."

I hadn't really considered that aspect of it because I was so mired in the litigation and red tape involved in trying to enforce such a statute -- and the ridiculousness of the premise of the study.

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"A law to protect a dialect? STUPID idea," reader David Borck chimed in. "There are many dialects in the country, even in Illinois. Chicago-ese is a known dialect! And this is more than just the sound but the words used."

Kathleen Schalk wrote that she had grown up in the western suburbs of St. Louis.

"When I was 21, my family moved" to the Chicago suburbs, she wrote. "Seemed like it took forever to get rid of 'soda' vs. 'pop,' 'stark' vs. 'stork,' 'fark' vs. 'fork,' and the omnipresent and highly useful 'y'all.'

"Interestingly, I have read from more than one intelligent source that the non-Chicaga accent is actually dictionary-perfect English. For the most part, I kind of believe that."

Reader Robie Johansen added: "I grew up two blocks from the west side city limits of Chicago, so I speak with a northeastern Illinois dialect/accent. I don't speak Chicagoese -- I can hear the difference! When I went off to college in downstate Jacksonville (near Springfield), so many of my fellow students said, 'You talk funny; you have a funny accent.' But very strangely, when I went home for Thanksgiving, all my friends at home said the same thing (to me). In that short time I had unknowingly picked up the peculiarities of the language spoken across a band of land in central Illinois, different from southern Illinois. Language is one of those things that is always changing. Preserving the written language can be done. Preserving the spoken word is another story."


When I went away to college in Urbana-Champaign, I was introduced to people from all over the world. I had a lab partner from Texas, a roommate from a farming community in central Illinois, guys down the hall from Iran and Jordan and even smaller rural towns in southern Illinois.

And with this opportunity I learned profanity in a variety of languages and American dialects.

But a core group of guys I hung out with had ties to Elmwood Park.

By the time I returned home for my first Thanksgiving, I sounded a lot like the Joey Tribbiani character from "Friends."

Reader Roxanne Bloom grew up in Rochester, in the 99.14% of New York state referred to as "upstate" by the people who occupy the 304 square miles of New York City.

It's true; I did the math for you.

"Daddy is daaady; mommy is moooomy," she wrote. "After 50 years of living in the (Chicago) area, I have lost most of my Rochester accent. However, I am still easily identified as being from 'out East.'"

And reader Jerry Gibson told me that when he was in the Army, his barracks buddies always teased him about his central Illinois "twang."

And he grew up a few miles up the road from Springfield.

"Mind you, this teasing was from a contingent of men from Boston, Massachusetts, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. "Since we were billeted together and worked in the same environment for 18 months, they would not believe me when I told them that it took me almost a year to decipher their dialects."

Jerry's is a good lesson for all of us. Just because you sound normal to yourself doesn't mean you will be understood by people who speak other dialects.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at Write him at and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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