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While the article was inspired by events surrounding the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, it includes a story of my days as a teenage theater usher at the Saenger theater in Pensacola, Florida.

Hillary, Barack, and Me. What's the Accent Really On?

Copyright Donovan Baldwin

Recently, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have received some press coverage and, in some cases, negative response, for temporarily adopting southern-style accents while addressing southern audiences.

Before I go further, I flash back to 1962 when I was in high school and working at nights as an usher at the Saenger theater on Palafox Street in Pensacola, Florida. Pensacola was, and is, a working port with ships from all over the world docking to load and unload cargo. It was not uncommon to encounter a sailor from one of those ships in local establishments, particularly on downtown Palafox Street, which was within walking distance of the docks.

Nor was it unusual for someone to wander into the Saenger after the box office had closed and offer a couple of bucks to be allowed to sit in on what was left of the last show of the evening. I was not surprised one night when a man walked in after the box office had closed and began to offer me (a teenage boy of seventeen) a couple of bucks to let him come in and watch the movie. As I hesitated, he went further and explained that he had been drinking and gambling all evening and needed an hour's sleep or so before he returned to his ship. All of this was delivered in what to my ears was a strong Cockney accent.

We conversed for a moment or two, and greed, tempered with a little teenage male awe and human understanding, won. I agreed to let him in and we completed our transaction. However, as we spoke, I noticed the friendly little man seemed to get a little tight lipped and less friendly. For the moment, I put it down to the effects of strong drink...a not uncommon effect in a Navy town like Pensacola. However, my fellow usher, Jim, walked up and asked me a question and I responded.


That's when it hit me! I answered him in "what to my ears was a strong Cockney accent".

Then I knew why the man had been looking at me in such a way and seemed to be annoyed! He had to have thought that I was mocking him!

I have had several such instances in my own life, as has my wife. I have even shifted my accent in a foreign language (I speak some German...usually with a Bavarian accent). Today, my wife and I go out of our way to be on guard against accidentally adopting the accents of others we are conversing with simply because we know how prone we both are to copy what we hear.

I don't know how big a problem this is for the rest of the known universe, but, having had this as a part of my persona for years, I tend to be a bit more forgiving of Hillary and Barack as a result of these experiences. I can call them by first name since we have the same problem apparently.


However, as often happens, my wife brought up another thought.

She and I both agree that almost any politician will try to play to the crowd on many different levels. Speaking to women, they will speak of women's issues, speaking to union members, they will speak on issues of interest to that group. When speaking to these groups, they will use words and phrases that the audience will recognize and relate to. It's the nature of the beast.

Looking at my own experiences in life, I am not surprised that they speak in some form of accent which categorizes the group they are speaking to. As a platoon sergeant in the army, I often would speak to soldiers under me in one way, their spouses in another, my fellow Noncommissioned Officers in another, my supervisors in another, and the clerk in the local grocery store in yet another. These transitions would sometimes be slightly intentional, but, most often, they came about semi-automatically, although it was not uncommon to find the voice used in my last conversation being the first one out of the gate in a new one.

When you look past the usually temporary furor caused by a politician's momentarily adopted accent you still arrive at an old standby for judging a candidate...actions speak louder than words. That's what will tell you what the accent is REALLY on.

About The Author:
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Donovan Baldwin is a Texas writer and a University of West Florida alumnus. He is a member of Mensa and is retired from the U. S. Army after 21 years of service. In his career, he has held many managerial and supervisory positions. However, his main pleasures have long been writing, nature, .and fitness. In the last few years, he has been able to combine these pleasures by writing poetry and articles on subjects such as health, fitness,yoga, writing, the environment, happiness, self improvement, and weight loss.

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Don Baldwin
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Original poetry by Donovan Baldwin

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