Tuesday, June 07, 2005

I say Cataba, you say Catalpa

Sometimes things are just different here in the south.

It wasn't until I was 18 and had a roommate from New Jersey, that I realized that only southerners use the term fixing to. At least in the sense that means "about to".

Similarly, our Cataba (cuh tah buh) tree is a Catalpa tree to everyone else.

To be precise: the Southern Catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides).

The caterpillar of the Catalpa sphinx moth (Ceratomia catalpae) feeds on catalpa leaves, sometimes defoliating entire trees. But it's also "treated with mystical reverence and respect by southern anglers," since according to most grandfathers it's the bait of choice for catfish and bream.

Bream is of course pronounced "brim". Around here, anyway.

This site has it wrong though, I think, when it comes to the explanation of why we pronounce it Cataba or Catawba.

In another display of regional pride and colloquialism, many fishermen in North and South Carolina use the names "Catawba worm" and "Catawba tree"-- misnomers that arose because the Catawba River flows through both states.
It's not just Carolinans. My grandfather in Georgia said Cataba, and Alabamians do too. Maybe Carolinians add more of a "w" sound though, I'm not sure.

There is also a Northern catalpa (Catalpa speciosa), which is very similar, apparently to the point that some botanists think the two species should be lumped together.

Another somewhat similar species is the non-native Royal Palownia (Palownia tomentosa) (a.k.a. Empress tree or Princess tree), which has purple blooms.

Oh, and one more thing. To many southerners, there is scarcely a thing more irritating on earth than a fake southern accent. If any actors read this, I beg you - I implore you! - to never try imitating a southern accent. Please. I almost had to walk out of the theater during the previews of Cold Mountain. Unless you're Holly Hunter or Beth Grant, I don't want to hear it.


Niobium said...

To us New Englanders there is nothing worse than a bad New Enland accent and we have to hear them *everytime* there is a Kennedy movie.

Hick said...

Beautiful flowers...as usual.

I spent some time in Mississippi several years ago and the most curious pronunciations that I discovered were "Bedroom Suits" (I thought they were talking about some fancy pajamas, but they were talking about their bedroom furniture--suites) and Durbis (I was there after a hurricane and they were speaking of debris). The other funny thing was they insisted that they didn't speak slow, Northerners "listened too fast." heh!

LauraP said...

Accents and regionalisms - fascinating stuff.

Love, love, love the pics and the catalpa/cataba explanation.

swamp4me said...

Since I grew up practically right next to the Catawba River I did tend to pronounce that "w" when referring to the catalpa tree :)

In dealing with the public I try very hard to pronounce the names of plants and animals properly, at least initailly -- then I tell them how it really should be pronounced.

We get visitors from all over the US and overseas so communication can sometimes be a challenge!

swamp4me said...

I know this is complusive...


Pablo said...

Out here in the good old Midwest, they tell me we don't have an accent. We're supposed to be the standard pronunciation folks, greatly desired by network news broadcasters. Whatever. One of the nice things about listening to NPR is that it is one of the few places where you can still hear actual accents. It's part of the richness of life to me.

Also, catalpa trees are native to Missouri, and I may give a try at planting some at Roundrock next spring. What conditions do they favor?

Ron Sullivan said...

Catalpa, however pronounced, is one of those hit-the-brake, holy-crap!, get-rear-ended things when they're blooming. Gorgeous tree, in form as well as flowers. And Joe tells me that as he recalls, those fishin worms are the larvae of some sphinx moth, so don't use them all. The moth's not colorful, but its pattern is nifty.

Out here, I've seen them nursery-crossed with Chilopsis linearis, the desert "willow," for a pretty and (so far as I've seen) smaller tree. Great scent in the flowers.

I've run across lots of pronunciation variations (as distinct from general accents) in the in-laws from Arkansas.

Prominent was my late mother-in-law's name. It's the sort of thing you'd get from literate people without broadcast media; she was born in 1905 in the Arkansas Ozarks, and named after a character in a perfectly dreadful sentimental novel, titled in various editions John Halifax or John Halifax, Gentleman. Spelled "Muriel," pronounced "Murl," rather like "Merle."

Eva said...

When I saw these photos I thought that they looked a lot like the flowers on the desert willow. Having read Ron's comment, I can see why! Speaking of accents, I wish I had a recognizable one :-) People often ask me where I'm from because my accent is "different." I tell them that as a former Air Force "brat" my accent comes from a lot of places.

happyandblue2 said...

As a Canadian I find all American accents funny, eh..

Pablo said...

Okay, this just in . . . Cataba is actually the "CORRECT" pronunciation. According to this site, the Native American name was Catawba, but the botanist who first noted it made a transcription error! Ha ha! (or Haw haw!)

As for regionalisms, has anyone ever heard of people using the word "pry" in place of "probably"? I heard it all the time growing up in St. Louis, but not so much here in Kansas City.

Dave said...

I guess we must have northern catalpas, but they look just like that (or they will, in another coupla weeks). Folks around here (central PA) have pretty broad Appalachian accents, which is different from southern: You'ns instead of y'all, crick for creek , ahrn for iron, etc. I've heard that some of that goes all the way down to n. Georgia in the mountains. It ends just north of here, so it does.

Katie & PJ said...

Our grandmothers and mothers were and are strong women, and proper enunciation has always been demanded of the native Mississippians in this house.

So we have always understood "kuh-tall-puh" to be equally applied to the tree, flower, and worm.

The worms are, in our experience, excellent catfish bait. But wash well after baiting your hook--the worms are suffused with green from all that cholorphyll. And your fingers will be, too, if you don't tidy up.

Zanne said...

I graduated high school with Dennis Franz of NYPD Blue fame, and that is the perfect example of a Chicago accent. It's perfectly horrible....nasal and well, just awful. My favorite is a gentle Georgia accent, think Roslyn Carter. I love regional accents. And since both sides of my family are southern to the roots, I love phrases like "fixing to", although I remember being pronounced as "fit-sin to".

Rurality said...

Thanks y'all. I love accents, dialects, and such.

Did anyone see "The Story of English" that was on PBS years and years ago? Great program. I still think about parts of it now, almost 20 years later.

Nb I guess with most things like that, only the true natives will notice the difference... I don't ever remember watching something and thinking, "What a poor imitation of a New England acccent"!

Hick they are "suits" here too, but I'd never heard of durbis!

Pablo, I think they like moisture best - most of ours are in damp areas - but are very adaptable.

Ron there used to be one on our old street, right near the road... always a danger of wrecks in that area from the gawking. That was the most uniformly blooming one I've ever seen... they must have fertilized it.

Oh I have a friend named in a similar fashion... Her mother fell in love with a name in a book, but had never heard it pronounced.

Eva, hubby is an AF brat too but both his parents were from here so he's more southern than anything else I guess. He's always trying to correct my pronunciation though. :)

Hey Pablo that's pretty funny. I don't think I've heard "pry" for probably - people write "prolly" a lot though, I've noticed.

Dave if you're a lumper they're probably the same anyway. :) My grandmother in GA used to call a crick a branch. Actually more like a brainch. She always said "saw" like "sawr" before a vowel too, as many Brits do.

Katie & PJ, I am a total girl when it comes to baiting hooks... I make hubby do it for me! :)

H&B, no, it's youse guys what talk funny.

Swampy... yet another clue to your secret job... bwa ha ha...

Zanne, now you're going to think I'm funny when I tell you that I like Chicago accents too. But maybe just because I've liked so many people from Chicago. :)

Jenn said...

"Fixin to" found it's way to Detroit, likely during the influx of southern workers when the auto plants were the place to be.

I wish I could remember all the 'slang' I used to spout when I was younger. It would drive my english teacher mother insane!

Jenn said...

So, Swampy... How do you say Forsythia?


Pamela said...

Here in Kentucky, it's ku-tal-per. No joke.

Also, no one's mentioned the word "get" for "take" as in my mom's favorite "You need to get a bath." (And, yes we have indoor plumbing). Around here, "fixing to" has become "ficking to." Very strange.

My personal favorite, however, is worsh, which is hopefully what you do in Kentucky when you get your bath.

swamp4me said...

I saw the Story of English on PBS years ago and liked it so much that I bought the videos.

Oh, and Jenn, Forsythia is pronounced "yellah bells" around here ;)

Pablo said...


Garrison Keilor once recited a poem on his show that had a couplet something like this?

"He drove up to the trailer, riding in his Porche.
"And there he saw his girlfriend, hanging out her worsh."

Rurality said...

Jenn I can remember my mother correcting me over and over again too... especially on the use of "ain't".

I say for-sith-ee-ah one day and for-sye-thee-ah the next. Revenge of the for-SITH-ee-ah!

Pamela how could I forget the alternate pronunciation from here, Cuh-tah-bur.

Hadn't heard ficking to, but fittin to has been observed.

Pablo LOL!

Julie said...

Wonderful blog you have! That close up of the flower is gorgeous.

My in laws back in Kentucky said "ca-tal'-fah" and Uncle Chester used to fish with the long "catalfa" beans.

All good wishes,

Rurality said...

Thanks Julie! I hadn't heard that pronunciation before.

Priscilla Helms said...

I have rooted catalpa trees and the worms are in my freezer. The worms have (looks like white eggs attached to their backs) Does anyone know for sure if they are eggs? I would like to know as much as I can about the worms, if anyone has any scientific information relating to life cycle, etiology, greatly appreciate it.
Thank you,
Priscilla Helms

Rurality said...

Priscilla, those are not catalpa worm eggs on the caterpillars. They are the eggs of a parasitic wasp, and will kill the caterpillars.

See here for more info.

You can find more information on the worms here and here.

Anonymous said...

Will the freezer kill the parasites? How do I protect the worms? A moth? Can you buy them?

Rurality said...

Sorry Anon, I have no idea.

Shrnkth said...

I'm from Virginia and did a search on Catalpa because some guitar bodies are made out of it. What I learned was, it also is spelled Cataba or catawba. We generally pronouce it Catawba but the local name I grew up with was Monkey Cigar tree. I tried to smoke one of the pods once. Now I know why they call it a Monkey Cigar tree. You'd have to be a Monkey to smoke one of those things.

Anonymous said...

Also, no one's mentioned the word "get" for "take" as in my mom's favorite "You need to get a bath." (And, yes we have indoor plumbing). Around here, "fixing to" has become "ficking to." Very strange.