Aw, Sookie, Sookie, Now

In regards to True Blood, the Shill asks

Also, have we discussed the completely stupid way Bill says Sookie’s name?

We have not.  But now we are about to.  In full disclosure, I feel a personal stake in this matter because my dad’s sister’s nickname, given to her by Grandpa Hick, is Sookie.

On True Blood, the main female character’s name is Sookie and this is pronounced by everyone as either rhyming with cookie or sounding like Sue-key.  Her undead Confederate Boyfriend pronounces it “Suck-ay.”

I went to the experts.

Dwight Yoakum:

(see about 2:55)

King Floyd:

and Don Covay

All three of them seem to agree with everyone else’s pronunciation and contradict Bill’s choice.

But, because I am a giant nerd, I look up “Sookie” in the OED and what do I learn?

“Sook,” “Sook cow,” and “Sookie” are Scottish cow calls. Like you call to any pig, regardless of its name, with “Sooey!,” you, if you are Scottish and live in the past, call cows “Sookie” to get them to come.

Now, on the one hand, Bill is right that “Sook” probably comes from “suck,” so maybe Suck-eh isn’t such a weird way to say it, but let’s just think about this word pragmatically.  We’re standing out in a field.  You are, for some reason, standing in a pile of cow poop.  You should remember, when standing in a cow pasture, to watch your step.  Where were we?

Yes, we are standing in a field.  The cows we want are way on the other side of the pasture.  We want to call to them and get their attention.  If we should “Suck-eehhhh,” only the last syllable carries and barely.  But, if we yell “Suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuueeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee-keeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee,” now we have those cows’ attention.

And now we’re back to talking about my biggest problem with Bill.  If I think about him too hard, I do not believe he’s a real Confederate Southerner.  First there was the bullshit about him not owning slaves.  Who, who in Louisiana with a house that big did not own slaves?  I’m not buying it.  Second, him talking about his dad owning slaves and how he knew the name of one of the field slaves, but not the house slave?  No way.  You don’t know the name of the person who works in your Dad’s house all the time?  Then how do you ask for tea?  “Oh, um, hey, you, could I have some sweet tea?”

And now, I’m supposed to believe that Bill, who did not own slaves, but who lived in his big farm house, which would have made him responsible for the livestock on that farm, called his cows with “Suck-ah”?

Again, I’m not buying it.

The Scots-Irish, who, I would assume, brought the term with them, seemed, as evidence by the music we can hear the term in now, to have spread it pretty far in the South and across various Southern cultures.  If Bill were just hearing the name for the first time, one would assume that he would say it the way that everyone else around Sookie says it.  That he says it differently indicates, I believe, that he’s heard the name before.

If he’s heard the name before, the most obvious instance in which he’s heard it is either as it is frequently used even now, as a pet name, or as it was originally used, a call name.

Either way, “Suuuuuuuuuue-key” is much more likely to get you nuzzled than “Suck-ah.”  And so, I cannot believe that Bill would call her “Suck-ah.”

Here’s what we need.  We need someone with a college-educated white Southern grandpa.  And not one of those 60 year old Pa-paws.  I’m talking someone pushing 80, who speaks with that “Ah went to Suh-waneeh” accent that you just don’t hear any more and who you call “Grandfather” or your mom shoots holes in your skull with her eyes.  If that’s your grandpa, we need you to call him this evening and ask him how he would pronounce Sookie and report back.

On the phones, people!  On the phones.

19 thoughts on “Aw, Sookie, Sookie, Now

  1. My Scots-Irish-sumpin-sumpin (you know that story) great-grandpa called his heifer (always had just one milking cow, all of them named the same thing) Sookie. Rhymed with kooky. Meanwhile, the Irish great-grandpa called his milking cow Boss. (This was my dad’s nickname for me as well.)

    It’s always women and cattle, ain’t it?

  2. Oops, not college educated. Both of these guys were well-read, but their formal education stopped at 8th grade.

  3. nm, thought it was Bessie. I don’t know about grandpas, but as a native Southerner (for eleventy-million generations), dammit, I say it rhymes with “kooky.”

  4. I believe Bossy and Bessie are indeed the default names for English speaking cows and, depending on what part of the English speaking world you’re in, depends on which is more frequent.

    Rachel, I’m most excited over the book sale that the Professor pointed out revealed my work email address. Oops. Not that jackasses haven’t posted it on the internet before… just I should not be my own jackass, you know?

  5. I’m with Rachel — in MS it rhymes with “kooky” — the most used situation I remember hearing this was when a skinny white male redneck was insulting an overweight white female redneck.

    I’ll speak to an older in-law over Turkey… he went to those Southern-type schools that you speak of — he’s even got inherited MS Delta land. He’ll know.

  6. I can live with a Sookie that rhymes either with cookie or kookie or somewhere in the middle.

    I could also live with Dwight Yoakam calling me up every night right about nine o’clock and just growling “Aw, Sookie, Sookie” into the phone.

    Also, I think “Cattle and Women” should be a book, which I would then read.

  7. The book you’re looking for has already been written by Laurie Winn Carlson. It’s called “Cattle: An Informal Social History.” She’s written some articles about cattle and women as well. I’ve kind of lost track of her — she was writing her thesis out at Washington State in western/ag/environmental history, but I don’t
    know where she wound up.

  8. Y’all don’t EVEN want me to get started on how southern accents are botched on TV.

    A long-distance phone call from my paternal great-aunt, who’s now up in heaven fighting with her sister-in-law over biscuit-baking, could tell you very quickly what you need to know, because I inherited her obsession with etymology. In her absence, I will relay what she once said to me when I asked this same question. (Not about vampires.)

    “I’m saying, ‘Sook sook sook sooky,’ like ‘cookie.’ I’ve always been told that it’s pronounced that way because it rhymes with ‘chook,’ which is an Elizabethan English word for ‘chicken.’ Shakespeare also used it as a colloquial endearment. Look it up, honey.”

    Sister Mavis Staples can “Sooky sooky now” all over “I’ll Take You There,” by the way. Hyah now.

  9. P.S. — I have always gotten a kick out of Dwight’s old-time use of “fast” in that song. (Scandalous! Clutch the pearls!) As well as his pronounciation of it: “Fay-ast.”

    And I just remembered: Even the GILMORE GIRLS said it right. Sookie.

    Lord.

  10. Sorry this whole conversation is nil in my mind. Instead, my brain and other parts are wrapped around “Aw Sookie” at 2:55. Aw Dwight. Your name should be Rod or Tightjeans or Mr. Sexypants. Not Dwight.

  11. Suuue Keyyyyyyyy, Sook Cow, Sook Cow…..
    That’s how three generations of our family called cows- Missouri and Iowa…..

  12. In the Deep South,
    it rhymes with cookie
    according to Charlaine Harris.
    There are so many unique and charming dialects in the South,
    and as far as names go, the only ‘correct” way to pronounce them, is the way their owner does.
    That snarky comment about being uneducated is rather arrogant.

  13. I had to laugh when I saw this “English speaking cows”

    I’ve never had a conversation with a cow, maybe my parents had Francophone cattle although they were mostly Guernsey and Jersey……

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