People speak so uniquely in various parts of the country that they often develop their own distinct “language.” Think of how differently people speak in New York, Texas, Alabama, Minnesota, etc. It makes for interesting and colorful speech. Is it OK to use regional slang in professional writing? Well, yes and no.
In a book, blog, or article, it’s fine to have characters speak naturally. For example:
Jed said, “Bubba done took that there thing to the dump.”
Since that’s how Jed speaks, we don’t have to understand it, we know that’s his normal speech. However, in narration (any time someone is not speaking), do not use slang. Use correct grammar. Otherwise it sounds sloppy and people who aren’t familiar with the jargon will stumble when reading it. Here is an example:
Bubba done took that there thing to the dump, then he went a-fishin yonder.
Since Bubba isn’t saying anything, it’s narration. Narration needs to be written using established grammatical standards. The way to add flavor and paint an authentic picture is to use creative descriptions written in proper grammar. Here’s an example:
Bubba hitched up his dirty overalls and scratched his armpit. Sweating and grumbling, he dragged the broken plow off the porch and heaved it into his rusty pickup bed. Shoving aside his fishing gear, he hopped on the sagging seat, then headed down the dirt road toward the dump—and to the lake beyond.
“Bubbaaaa!” Mam-maw hollered, hobbling over to the window. “Whar in tarnation are ya, man?”
Jed said, “Bubba done took that there thing to the dump.”
See the difference? In the entire first paragraph about Bubba, every single word is written in correct grammar. The words themselves painted a picture of Bubba without using any slang phrases. I only used slang when someone was speaking.
Most people are so used to writing the way they speak that they forget local jargon is not commonly used by everyone. If you’re texting or tweeting your friends, jotting a note to someone, or writing a personal email, it’s fine. But if you are writing something professional, be sure you use correct grammar that applies across the board.
Here are some examples of regional slang that should not be used in narration. They are incorrect grammatically. I’ve seen some of these errors in books, blogs, articles and other widespread printed material—revealing a lack of expertise or professionalism. I’ve also included examples from my awesome Facebook friends who eagerly volunteered suggestions. See if any of these sound “right” to you, but are not grammatically correct, and take note of how to write them. The first one is particularly misused!
WRONG: He just graduated college.
CORRECT: He just graduated from college.
WRONG: He was graduated from college.
CORRECT: He graduated from college.
WRONG: The floor needed vacuumed.
CORRECT: The floor needed to be vacuumed.
WRONG: The dog was laying on the floor.
CORRECT: The dog was lying on the floor.
* You lay or put something down. “Lay” is a verb, an action you do to something other than yourself. If you see something laying somewhere, it means someone PUT it there. Example: I was going to lay money on the restaurant table, but my friend had already laid her credit card down and the waiter scooped it up.
* Use lie when a person/animal lowers itself into a reclining position (no one is putting them there.) Example: The dog leapt up on the bed to lie down. Dad was already lying on the bed, and they both yelped at the collision.
WRONG: He went to the wrong house on accident.
CORRECT: He went to the wrong house by accident.
WRONG: She grabbed an unsweet tea from the cooler.
CORRECT: She grabbed a bottle of unsweetened tea from the cooler.
WRONG: She’d liked to never got him to agree to the crazy plan.
CORRECT: She’d never have gotten him to agree to the crazy plan.
WRONG: He closed the light.
CORRECT: He turned off the light.
(A light doesn’t “open,” so it can’t “close.”)
WRONG: He said he’d be back in a couple hours.
CORRECT: He said he’d be back in a couple of hours.
WHICH ONE? She took/brought my jacket.
Trick question! It depends on the context.
* Took/Take = Something is taken from you or removed from where you are.
* Bring/Brought = Something is brought to you or is at your current location.
WRONG: She brought my jacket home with her by mistake.
CORRECT: She took my jacket home with her by mistake.
(It was removed—or taken—from my house.)
WRONG: She took my jacket to work and gave it back to me.
CORRECT: She brought my jacket to work and gave it back to me.
(It was returned to me, and now it’s in my location.)
WRONG: Let’s bring a ball with us to the beach.
CORRECT: Let’s take a ball with us to the beach.
(We have it in our possession and will move it to another location.)
Easy memory tip: Bring things here … take things there.
This is a short list—I’m sure you can think of more. One last note on the same subject. Even if you are using correct grammar, make sure your readers can understand exactly what you intend to communicate. What does this mean? Jane and John are in a relationship. Does it mean they are buddies? Engaged? Business partners? What kind of relationship are they in? Make your meaning clear so that your writing will be fine as frog’s hair split four ways! 😉
Savvy Writer Tip:
We all speak in jargon that is native to our area. (Is it pop, soda, or coke?) We don’t even notice the way we speak most of the time. So when you are writing professionally or you want to be taken seriously, use correct grammar. Slang should only be used if someone is speaking. The rest of the time, use creative and colorful words to add authentic flavor—in proper grammar. Before disclosing your writing to the public, have someone review it. If you can, get feedback from people in other areas of the country. But always make sure you use a professional proofreader to check your writing before publishing—especially if it’s a book, article, or blog post that will reach people everywhere. You want your message to be communicated to everyone clearly, accurately, and intelligently. 🙂