I reckon, y’all need lingo fixin’

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The first piece of hate mail I ever received arrived at The (Nashville) Tennessean offices 21 years ago next month. It’s pictured above.

I remember the experience vividly. The card came inside an envelope with no return address and a heart stamp that read LOVE. I’m not sure if I laughed or giggled or sighed, but I was definitely intimidated. Especially after another letter came …

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… and another letter came …

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I saved a ton of them because, at the time, I found them funny. I was wrapping up my internship at the paper, thinking I was God’s gift to writing, ignoring criticism, absorbing praise, not realizing that I absolutely, positively, 100-percent sucked.

Wait. I need to explain. The letters were in response to a column the newspaper (inexplicably) allowed me to write. I was a know-it-all New Yorker who probably found Tennesseans to be quaint and sort of ignorant. So I pitched a piece about the goofy ways southerns speak—and it was approved. Here’s the finished product …

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Embarrassing. Pathetic. Arrogant. Awful. Those are four words, but surely 100 more would suffice to explain how dreadful that fucking column reads. It’s smug and condescending, and while I don’t endorse “Yankee Jew Boy” as a tag, well, I get the anger. Who was I to write something like that? What gave me the right?

Looking back, now at age 42, I’m somewhat ashamed, somewhat perplexed. But I’m also grateful that enough people smacked me around and showed me the thin line between journalism and junk.

Back then, I was pure junk.

Somebody smack this kid.

Somebody smack this kid.

2 thoughts on “I reckon, y’all need lingo fixin’”

  1. I don’t endorse “Yankee Jew boy” either, kind of being one myself. But what I found interesting was that all three readers had pretty decent syntax and grammar. Usually, hate mail, especially handwritten (or, usually, and as in these 3 examples, hand-printed) hate mail shows all the illiteracy of Tea Party placards that call Obama a “moran.” How did the editors let this get to press?

  2. love your honesty, Jeff… great stuff as usual (this piece, not the original).
    I am also shocked that someone at the paper green lit the original and ran it.
    they deserve some blame too.

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