Down the holler

Do you know what a “holler” is? Your first thought might be of a shout, but if your heart and your native dialect, like mine, are closer to Murphy than to Manteo, you probably know that a “holler” is a sheltered valley between mountains and it might evoke either an idyllic image of orchards and pastures or a gritty memory of ramshackle houses, rusted vehicles and unrealized dreams. (You might also hear a Loretta Lynn song in your head.)

“Holler” is on my mind this morning because it appears in this story about John Edwards’ tour of areas where poverty is pervasive. The story refers to “mountain hollers of Appalachia.” Hollers is dialect for “hollows,” which perfectly describes those valleys among the mountains.

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The pronunciation “holler” is common in Southern Appalachian speech. I wonder if many of our readers would be confused by the word in a news story, though. I am not sure how I feel about it myself. On the one hand, I love Appalachian speech as much as I love the mountains themselves. I regret that regional variations are disappearing and that mountain dialect is disparaged as “hillbilly talk.” On the other hand, as a copy editor, I try to choose words that I think are widely familiar and to eschew those terms that aren’t. That standard of clarity covers the newest slang, the oldest colloquialisms and the narrowest regionalisms. Speech is one thing; writing is another.

What do you think? Is “hollers” all right in a news story? Did the word stop you as you read the John Edwards report?

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.