Mar 24 2008

The “yo” factor.

One of the things I probably should have anticipated about teaching was picking up on the kids vernacular. When I went to Europe the summer after my senior year of high school I noticed myself tending to pick up aspects of the accent of whatever country we were in (especially in the UK). I put this down to my musical ear and my talent for imitation. It was, however, kind of embarrassing because I certainly can’t claim that my “musical ear” gives me any sort of good accent and I was worried that people would think I was mocking them.

Since moving to the South from sunny old CA, I swear to god I have gone through more accent upheavals than a normal person should in a lifetime. (Which, in certain company, I now pronounce “lahf-tahm” because all of a sudden I’m Scarlett frickin O’Hara). The funny thing is that which southern accent I choose appears to entirely depend on the situation.

A fellow teacher (born and bred in the area) leaned into my classroom the other day and asked to borrow my TV/DVD player. We went back and forth for a minute and when she left I turned around to find my students snickering at me. “Ms. W, you were all country!”

Most of my students (about 99%) are African-American, which means that they generally come with an entirely different accent than your stereotypical “southern drawl.” They also use all sorts of slang terms with which I am woefully unfamiliar. (Hey you kids! Get off of my lawn!)

As I have become familiar with them these terms have started to creep into my vocabulary. One particularly insidious one is the word “yo.” My kids end almost every declaratory sentence or question with this word/syllable. For example:

“Someone jacked my pencil, yo!”

“Ms. W., we got this, yo!”

“Where the markers at, yo?”

It started innocently enough as a joke at the kids’ expense (my favorite kind of joke), Chris and I batted around sentences ending in “yo.”

”Where do you want to go to dinner, yo?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t we go to Applebees,yo.”
“Yo, good idea”

The problem is that now it has gone too far. I can’t stop. I end sentences in “yo” without meaning to be funny or ironic. It has become a part of my speech pattern. I told my mother on the phone the other day that I was, “so ready for the year to be done, yo.” This is not good. Can you just see me as a CMA or at a job interview all, “Here are my references, yo. I’m sure you’ll find them satisfactory.”

The yo has taken over. It must be stopped.

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