Your Accent is Showing

Your Accent is Showing

Most people don’t grow up thinking they have an accent, and we don’t always know how local phrases can identify our place of origin or give personal clues about us.

For example, I spent most of my formative years in Pennsylvania Dutch country and didn’t move away until college. After graduation, I was excited to have my first real job, and equally excited to have professional colleagues. I was invited to go to lunch with some co-workers and replied I would join them as soon as I “red up my desk.” They had never heard that phrase. I thought everyone used it.  On reflection, I realized that it was a colloquialism that was short for the Dutch “ready up.”

I later lived in New Jersey where people went “down the shore,” and in Carolina where people “went to the beach.” In the south, I got used to “we sure don’t” and hearing “hey,” instead of “hi.”

While accents and local phrases can be charming, they may need to be tempered in business writing and in professional presentations. We have all seen the comedy skits about “valley girls” and their overuse of the word “like.” Using “ain’t” for effect is another example, and your boss may not feel “bless your heart” is a proper business response.

We can’t escape our own history, and no one is suggesting we have to adopt a false and unnatural way of speaking. However, it is important to be aware of personal phrases that may be confusing or misinterpreted by others. Being grammatically correct is important in business. So is speaking well, even if your accent is showing.

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