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Carnett: Speech by any other accent would sound as sweet

May 13, 2013|By Jim Carnett

Ever used a phony accent to fool somebody?

Yeah, me too.

When I was an 18-year-old college student, in 1963, my buddy Steve and I tried to impress girls at the beach with our English accents. We'd recently appeared in a Shakespearean production on campus and were pretty smug about our Elizabethan intonations. We took those accents on the road throughout Newport-Mesa to dazzle the girls.

Steve and I became Rupert and Clive from Oxford. Our rock-solid opening line was: "Hullo. Could you possibly direct us to the Newport Pier?"

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Girls would gaze at us in wonder. "Ohmigosh! Are you guys from Canada?" To which we'd respond: "No, Worcestershire!"

For variety, we'd sometimes draw our vowels out to the threshold of incivility and become Derrick and Colin from Sydney, Australia. Same empire, different accent.

We soon learned that while cloaked in our Brit personas some girls thought us about as charming as a pork pasty or boiled potato. But, as Aussies, we could claim to be outrageous Bondi Beach surfer dudes. That garnered us significant cache in Newport.

Our egos were much too fragile to actually represent ourselves as Jim and Steve from Costa Mesa.

What we came to realize during our cultural forays into Newport's sunbathing set is that the little island nation of England — slightly smaller than the state of Alabama — has about a bazillion different accents.

There's no one accepted manner of English-speak!

You've got your Cornish, Liverpudlian, Yorkshire and Suffolk varieties to be sure, with dozens of others from throughout the English landscape, and a host of disparate tongues found in the warrens of London.

Steve and I strove to speak something akin to "BBC English."

Though British English is certainly not the most difficult of foreign dialects for Americans to mimic, I've learned that not everyone can effectuate a decent stiff-upper-lip rendition. It takes a certain joie de vivre.

Remember Kevin Costner in the 1991 film, "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves"? Brutal. Early in the film Costner tries valiantly — though fails miserably — to sound like a denizen of Nottinghamshire. By mid-movie he drops all artifice and is "Mr. SoCal" for the remainder of the journey.

And how about Dick Van Dyke's fractured Cockney brogue in the 1964 film "Mary Poppins"? Though his body was as limber as Silly Putty, Van Dyke's accent was as rigid as a sheet of Drywall.

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