Gravitas in Pump Chili: A brief discussion of silence and euphemism in the South

Roderick on the Line is probably my favorite podcast because it reminds me of thousands of silly conversations riddled with inside jokes I have shared over the years with my best friend Roger. Merlin Mann and John Roderick clearly have the same deep understanding of one another, and that’s where you find gold.

So I was driving to work one day last week and listening to Ep. 13: “Then There Was Pump Chili” when they began to describe communication in the South. It really caught my ear, so I dropped a quick note into OmniFocus (using Siri because, you know, I was driving) to go back and listen to the podcast again beginning at 28:48 just after the briefest discussion about poop. Here is my transcription, which runs through 29:56.

As with many discussions about the South, it begins with death.

John Roderick: When you say “you passed” it always sounds to me like, ehh, it’s just a little too, it’s like you would say, it’s, it’s, it’s like a doctor talking to somebody, talking to you about your aunt. “Oh, she passed.”
Merlin Mann: Passed or passed away. I think that’s…
JR: Passed away, right.
MM: What do you say? You say somebody died.
JR: Died. She died.
MM: I think it must be a Southern thing I picked up.
JR: Yeah, well, the South is very euphemistic.
MM: In the South, almost everything is communicated by what is not said. I, I, I… That might, that sounds ridiculous, but I really really believe that. As somebody who literally never stops talking, I always had trouble communicating with people because everyone spoke, there’s a certain kind of code, it isn’t just about, you know, race and class, but that had a lot to do with it, but there is so much that is based on what you never say.
JR: Right, and you kept talking past, you kept talking right through that.
MM: I, you know. Yeah. Yeah. But I mean, you know, it’s not even the super easy passive-aggressive suburban stuff. Like, there is just certain kinds of stuff that nobody needs to say, and the fact that nobody says it is what makes it powerful.

They nailed it, am I right? This is everything William Faulkner wrote about in his Southern gothic masterworks. This is what Billy Bob Thornton was trying to illustrate to audiences in his movie “Daddy and Them.” Master the language of silence and euphemism and you will be able to communicate Southern English with fluency.

If you take the time to sift through all of the silliness in RotL, which I adore, it’s what keep me coming back for more, you will find yourself holding a pan full of gold. Also, poop. Go check them out.