Thursday, December 06, 2007

Know your Coen dialects

You may not be able to spot a Coen movie on the screen in the way you can a John Carpenter or Martin Scorsese work, but that may be due to the fact that the brothers have never really settled on a firm set of trademark tells. The Coens bounce through genres and themes perhaps more than any other filmmakers, and it wouldn't surprise anyone if their next project was about a wind surfing magician. But one of the few constants in their work is the creative ability to enhance a film's fictional world with a distinct language and speech pattern. Since "boy, you got a panty on yer head" was first uttered, the Coens have celebrated a different dialect in almost all their succeeding movies. For your convenience, here is a rough field guide to Coen Linguistics:

Stupid by Southwest
Characteristics: Folksy enthusiasm (occasionally genuine) and desperation combined with minimal education.
Common habitat: Trailer parks, prisons and convenience stores.
Slang: Cereal flakes (breakfast cereal), l'amour (sex, possibly with someone else's spouse), Edwina (desert flower), Gubmint (government).
Examples: "Do they blow up in funny shapes? Nope, unless round's funny;" "Edwina's insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase;" "H.I., you're young and you got your health, what you want with a job?"


Whiskey in the Swear Jar
Characteristics: Close to the vest, overly confident, rapid fire with Irish Whiskey close at hand (or in hand).
Common habitat: Illegal drinking establishments, warehouses, alleys.
Slang: Injuns (Indians), bed antics (sex), fix (business venture), ethics (criminal behavior).
Examples: "Leo, I ain't embarrassed to use the word - I'm talkin' about ethics;" "Nobody knows anybody. Not that well;" "If I'd known we were gonna cast our feelings into words, I'd've memorized the Song of Solomon."


Minnesota Nice

Characteristics: Easily excitable, unoffensive with exaggerated Nordic speech patterns.
Common habitat: Frozen highways, fields of snow, frosted cars.
Slang: Smooth smooth (bad ass), oh daddy (oh shit), Buick Ciera (well-made automobile), super lady (moderately attractive woman).
Examples: "That's, a fountain of conversation there, buddy. That's a geyser;" "So, uh, you married old Norm son-of-a-Gunderson?" "You're darned tootin'!"


Drunk Lazy Dick

Characteristics: Passionately relaxed, unimpressed, overly opinionated, profane, thirsty.
Common habitat: Los Angeles, specifically bowling alleys and often the houses of the rich and famous.
Slang: J (marijuana cigarette), Swiss Fucking Watch (flawless plan), little kid walking into a movie theater (out of your element), johnson (penis), ringer (distraction), coitus (sex).
Examples: Innumerable.


High Art Bumpkin

Characteristics: God-fearing, musical, philosophical, sweetly dim.
Common habitat: Dusty roads, back woods, rivers, railroads.
Slang: Paterfamilias (husband, or something), unaffiliated (non-religious), can (microphone), hogwallop (unknown).
Examples: "One third of a gopher would only arouse my appetite without bedding it down;" "I suppose it'd be the acme of foolishness to inquire if you had a hair net;" "Me an' the old lady are gonna pick up the pieces and retie the knot, mixaphorically speaking."


Bloody Nowhere

Characteristics: Few words, nonsensical metaphors and stories, lack of sense of humor.
Common habitat: Empty streets, open fields, empty hotels.
Slang: Coin toss (maker), gettin' place (where you get things), friendo (friend).
Examples: "Well, age will flatten a man;" "What is he, like the ultimate bad ass?" "You can't stop what's coming"

9 comments:

Moviezzz said...

"Do they blow up in funny shapes? Nope, unless round's funny;"

One of my favorite movie lines.

Joe Valdez said...

From Fargo: "Ah, hon, ya got Arby's all over me."

Fantastic article, Adam. As a film and geography geek, what I find fascinating is how accurately the Coens nailed each region of the U.S. in their movies. Having lived in Texas and in L.A. for many years, "nonsensical metaphors and stories" and "passionately relaxed" are not just speech patterns, but a way of life.

Adam Ross said...

Thanks Joe. And then you have "Barton Fink" which doesn't really fit under one particular dialect, but has plenty of them to share.

Piper said...

Great post Adam,

The Coens like no other can delve deep into their surroundings making you feel like you were there.

As terrified as I was of No Country For Old Men, I still wanted to live where people talked like that.

And I might argue that the Coens do have a common theme. And that is a busted heist. They are at their finest with SNAFUS.

MC said...

I think Stupid by SW was my favorite Coen dialect, and this is coming from a practising Dudeist.

Adam Ross said...

I think you're right Piper, even O Brother Where Art Thou has busted heist elements.

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