Pure Unadulterated Meanness (“I Seen Him Do It, Maw”)

(Holy Crap to hell, Campbell’s soup, do you think you put enough salt in this can?  I do like some veggies and old cow with my salt.)

Sometimes, when I’m talking to people, I want to stick needles in my ears rather than listen to them another minute.  Sometimes, I want to tell them they should never, ever speak again unless it’s to their loved ones, or it’s work-related.  Sometimes I’m talking to someone who’s interesting and funny, and I love talking to them, but they still sometimes say things that make me cringe.  I know they’re at least high school graduates, but they apparently somehow missed 3rd grade.

I hesitate to do this, because a lot of people who talk this way are really good, really cool people, either the salt of the earth, or crazy (most of my friends) or both.  Of course a lot of total dipshits talk this way too.  So please don’t be offended if you use this word this way–it’s just my thing.  I’m talking about the use of “I seen” instead of “I saw”–it just ain’t right.

Yes, I meant to do that, because “ain’t” doesn’t really bug me so much.  It’s used by all sorts of people, educated and uneducated, and flows off the tongue so much better, which we’ll get to later.  But “I seen” or “seen where so and so….” or “She seen me, I know she did” are just wrong.  It makes people sound like pure country bumpkins.  I don’t know, maybe it wasn’t 3rd grade where we learned the difference about “see, saw, have seen”, or “do, did, have done”, or (my family’s favorite) “ill, sick, dead.”  I couldn’t tell you if that last one was something we heard somewhere or not, but I’ve always thought my sister made it up, and we had many laughs about it then and later.  Not so all-fired funny now, but it still is.

Let’s get back to “I seen” it.  There are only two times in the history of the world where “I seen” should ever have been considered appropriate.  I don’t mean two types of conversations; I mean two instances at all.  The first would be in an Arkansas trailer park, after the tornado, and Clem would be stumbling out of his double-wide, in the sweat-shorts he’s in every minute of every day except during his Saturday night bath.  In between polishing off several chicken legs, he’d tell the news crew, “Me and the Missus was over there in number 21 watchin’ the race, and Dale was fixin’ to get his lap back on the lucky dog, when it got just as still outside as ol’ Uncle Sam Ed did when his ticker plumb gave up on him on the tractor.  Anyway, (chomp), I looked at Mabel and said ‘We better be gettin’ to the bathroom’, so we done it.  As we were gettin’ in there, I seen the tail of the damn thing lookin’ like it was already half up our asses.  I tol’ her, ‘This may be it’.  But we was lucky, (chomp chomp), because we musta got just the edge of ‘er.  The old tin can shook for dern near a minute, just like ol’ Aunt Betty shook when she heard about Sam Ed–she just stood there and shuddered.  She said she knew what it was gonna be when she seen ol’ Vern Nelson come up; she just knew what it was.  He’d never had no heart trouble before, but she knew, I give her that.  Vern, he said he never seen nothin’ like it–he said it was like she was sorta buzzin’ like a bee and just shudderin’, but she didn’t say a word, not for about 6 month.  Oh, yeah, the twister (chomp, chomp, spit, pick at only tooth, chomp), I seen it just startin’ to pick up the sheets of plywood at the lumber yard, then we hunkered down and then it was over, and, when we got out, it was like Mabel seen a ghost, evahthing to the south of us was just squashed.”

The only other time the term “I seen” should have ever been used would also be in Arkansas, where Betty Leigh would be saying “Woooo-oooh-wee, boy, where’d you get that move?  That ’bout plum cleared my sinuses!”  And he’d answer, “Well, Maw, you oughta know that one–it’s one a Paw’s best moves–he used it on Sis the other night.”  She’d shake her head in disbelief.  “But, Maw, I ain’t lyin’–I seen him do it!”

The most compelling reason that “I seen” is wrong and “ain’t” isn’t so bad is evident in any YouTube search for songs with “I seen” or “you seen” or “he seen” or whatever in it–there just are hardly any.  But there are multitudes, legions, swarms of songs with “ain’t” in the song, many in the title.  “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone” sounds right (well, right enough grammatically for the sake of a song, if wrong as far as the weather is concerned), but Roberta Flack singing “The first time ever I seen your face” is just dead wrong.  A partial list of “Ain’t” songs:

“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”

“Aint No Woman Like the One I Got”

“He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother”

“Ain’t No Stoppin’ us Now”

“Ain’t it Funny, How Time Slips Away”

“Ain’t That Peculiar”

“Ain’t Gonna Play Sun City”

“It Ain’t Me Babe”

“You Ain’t Got No Pancake Mix” (I have no idea what this is)

“You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”

and one of my favorites, from Porgy and Bess, especially as done by Ella and Louis:  “It Ain’t Necessarily So”

Methusaleh lived nine hundred years

Methusaleh lived nine hundred years (Old ‘Thusey!)

But who calls that livin’, when no gal’ll give in,

To no man what’s NINE HUNDRED YEARS!!

And that is pure unadulterated meanness on my part, to run people down for saying “I seen”, but I just can’t help it.  I still like the people, usually; I just wish they’d speak like they’ve made it to middle school, or junior high, or “4th form” or what-the-hell ever.  I don’t much care for Grandma come to dinner Sunday, but it doesn’t bug me as much as “I seen”.  “Done” instead of “did” I can forgive, though it’s not the King’s English or anything: “She don’t have a heart, but she done broke mine, that’s what she done” is the premise of many a country song.  Some of them ain’t too bad.  I seen ’em light up the Billboard Country charts over the years.

Have a nice day, y’all.

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8 Responses to Pure Unadulterated Meanness (“I Seen Him Do It, Maw”)

  1. Okay. So are you saying it’s okay for black people to use poor grammar, but not white? Just wondering. (But oh– that’s a scary question, isn’t it? And I probably don’t know you well enough to ask the scary ones.)

    • I’m really not sure what you’re seeing, my friend–the music selections, maybe? Most of them are Motown, but “He Ain’t Heavy” is Hollies or Neil Diamond, and “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” is BTO, and I forgot “I Ain’t Got Nobody” by Santana. But anyway, no, I just hate it when anyone talks like an idiot, no matter who you are or where you’re from. It’s just pointless. And it wouldn’t hurt people to read a book once in a while, either. I’ve had a person say to me “Why would I read a book?” I don’t know–to go outside of your own head, maybe? Thanks for reading.

  2. I’m with you on this, TTD. I wonder what it is that makes us accept one incorrect usage and not another? I don’t care about ain’t, gonna, prolly, wit and I couldn’t tell you why – but ‘I seen’ hurts my ears. So does, “I ‘borrowed’ him my wrench.” And my personal contender for, ‘why didn’t you just hit me, it would have hurt less’ status: ‘bored of’ as opposed to ‘bored with’. I understand that ‘bored of’ is gaining and may soon become common usage or THE common usage, but it just sounds off to me. It makes my eyes water.

    Tell me you say “bored of’ and I’ll still like you. I’ll just be glad you don’t have my phone number. 🙂

    • Well, thank goodness I’ve never actually heard the phrase “bored of”; I’d probably hate it as much as you do. I forgot about waiting “on line” instead of waiting “in line”–internet users go on line, nuclear reactors go on line, but a line of people isn’t a line unless the people are there, so they’re waiting “in line”, not “on line”. I don’t know where that one started, but I want it stopped.
      As if I’d ever actually CALL anyone any more. 😉

  3. H.E. ELLIS says:

    I spent the first half of my life in Florida and the second half in New England, so I switch between perfect elocution and swamp speak constantly. Drives my kids insane.

    • Damn computer, damn little finger; I hit some key and it deleted my reply. As I was saying, that makes me smile, H. E., because driving your kids insane is definitely its own reward. Never heard of “swamp speak” before, but it makes sense. I grew up on a farm, and my folks talked pretty normally, and I know that rural people have a big variety of I. Q. levels, the same as any other group, but none of that changes the fact that there is a thing about some people that I run across from time to time, something I like to call “country-dumb.”

  4. gregoryno6 says:

    I know what you mean about people who are cool and great who can say the most absolutely stupid things. I’m one of them.

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