Tuesday, July 19, 2011

On finding the right words

This is not about how to find the right way to say something complicated.

This is about how to throw a party.

A friend of mine who lives in Oregon likes to have these parties at the beginning of every summer wherein guests bring some pasta salad, maybe a few beers, oh, I don't know, perhaps some Jello? No, probably not Jello. But, you know. Coleslaw maybe. The hosts crank up a grill and cook hot dogs and burgers. Condiments are presented. There may be a lawn game or two involved.

In Oregon, such an event is called a BBQ. Or, spelled differently, a barbecue. The event is so recognizable as such, that my friend, should her last name be Windsor, could invite people to a Windsor-Q, and all attendees would know that it would be outside and that food would be cooked on a grill (fascinators optional).

I tried inviting some of my South Carolinian friends to an Aynor-Q recently. Later, when I mentioned that the grill - the one we keep outside and cook food on - would be heated for the event, I got a surprised response. "Oh, we're grilling?"

Right. Because not only was the Q not specific enough to suggest BBQ - which I get - but here, in the Deep South, the word BBQ (or barbecue) does not mean "a party where people cook outside." It is a noun that means "food that is cooked with smoke" or a verb that means "to cook with smoke." In the Carolinas, it can also be a noun defined as "pulled pork." Said pulled pork may be mixed with barbecue sauce, either vinegar or mustard-based, but NEVER, for the love of Jesus, will that sauce be tomato-based.

Here, an event where people cook outside on a grill is called a "cook out."

Oooooohkay. Lesson officially learned.

I also learned another lesson at what turned out to just be a good dinner party: if you're a yankee (I hear I am), don't try saying "y'all." It works in writing - I've found it's quite efficient as a plural, gender-neutral pronoun in a casual email. However, when I tried it on my guests, my efforts were met with mockery.