Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Accent on the 'G'

Part of my job at the College Bookstore was to call in the textbook orders for Fall and Spring rush. I would spend a day or two telephoning about 200 publishers all over the country and I would waste hours navigating phone trees that would make your head spin like Linda Blair (“…And press or say ’187′ if you’ve by now forgotten why you called us...”).
I also talked with the smallest publishers that can still be called by that moniker:
Um, Hello.....?
Um, Is this TeenyMiniMom&Pop Publishing?
Oh! Sure! (Carl! Get me some paper!) Now, how many copies of the book do you need?”


“A HUNNERDANTHIRTY!? I’ll have to go out to the SHED!”*

And I’ve learned a couple of things about myself over the years.
One, I have an odd, rare and unpronounceable name. Which is strange to me, because I chose the name ‘Angus’ in part because I thought it was accessible, somewhat known and easy to spell and say. “What could go wrong?” I thought.
My office at Cabrillo College.
The list was kept on the wall to the left.
Well here is a partial list of just what exactly has gone wrong with my name. Over the years of calling publishers I have been called (often repeatedly):
  • Ekes
  • Engus
  • Hengus
  • Agnes
  • Hank
  • Hankus
  • Vegas
  • Pinkus
  • Fangus
  • Magnus
  • English

Which means I was known around the office as “Hank Vegas” (*sigh*).
The only State to consistently get my name correct was Texas, which, given their long, shared history with cows makes a kind of sense.
And really, I don’t care how you spell or say Angus, as long as you don’t forget the “G”. Okay? Okay.
Another Angus. No relation.
(Photo from
The other thing I’ve learned in calling around America is that I apparently have an accent. I’m a West Coast native, traveled, but never lived anywhere else. I say “hey” instead of “hello” but I’m not a Val or a Surfer Dude.
And yet folks insist that it’s like, totally obvious where I am calling from. "And what part of California are you in?" And they ask me this in BWAAston accents that haven’t spoken an audible ‘R’ in 400 years, in michigan accents so flat they cannot tolerate capital letters, and in Southern accents so thick you could glaze ham with them.
Oh, I’m sorry, I’M the one with the accent? You just used the words “Hon” “Shuug” “Reckon” “Y’all” and “NASCAR” in the same sentence – and they were the only words I could comprehend.
I remember traveling through Southwest England, and in one small town – small enough to fit inside a pub – one of our party quietly remarked that everybody in this country sure had quite an accent. We all stared at her for a long moment. She thought about her statement for a while longer, and then put her Guinness back on the bar and didn’t touch it again.
California Accent? Maybe, but I definitely can do a PIRATE accent.
Here I am in front of 1,200 folks at a Roller Derby bout.
(Photo courtesy Derek P. Opdyke)
I asked a friend in Scotland about accents, and he said: “Well I’m from Nottingham** – I can’t understand a bleeeeedin' word these Scots blokes say.”
Which is how I feel when I attempt to communicate with Atlanta, Brooklyn, Maine or North Dakota. I then asked what American accents sound like to him, but, being English, he was too polite to respond. Being an Ugly American though I prodded him a bit and he finally admitted that, to the English, we Americans all sound like asthmatic dogs.
So there you go…….DUDE.

Angus McMahan

*Near the end of this conversation there was some noise in the background, she excused herself from our conversation for a moment, and I heard her say: "Carl? If yer going to town - get me some pops!"

**Pronounced: "Na' ' 'in' ' 'um" - Northern English accents drop so many consonants they sound like they've been already been bleeped out by censors.


  1. Love it! That's all I heard when visiting Texas, "Oh you've such a sweet lil' California accent!" And lets just say their accent is not music to my ears. I thought my head would explode after a whole day of standing in tightly crowded lines (Six Flags, of course. Why else is there to go to Texas?).

  2. Great post, An-Gus! ;) My dad (from Cheshire) did a study in English dialects years ago - really interesting. Dialects could differ from one side of town to the other; although now it's probably different because people travel so much more. He's an editor now, translating British English to and from American English - big need for that, these days. Also, my first name, Columba, has been rendered Columbia, Columbus, Columbine, and, worst of all, Columbo! People think it's my last name all the time, too. I finally gave up and switched to Lisa, lol!