Unsweet Tea is the new Oklahoma dialect…

iced tea

One of my friends from grad school is from Canada, and when she first came to Oklahoma, she had the uncontrollable urge to pull words out of people’s mouths because Oklahomans talk too slow. I can’t confirm or deny if we talk slower than people elsewhere, but I don’t think that’s the only speech quirk we possess.

A recent NPR article discussed lost regional colloquialisms. (Oklahoma’s was larruping. It’s not lost though, my mom still says it.) Another recent article from NewsOK.com asks if the “Okie dialect” is disappearing. (Considering Okies were very poor migrants who left Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl to find jobs, I’d say their dialect is dead, you know, because there are no Okies anymore. But I digress…) Anyway, from NewsOK.com:

The Oklahoma dialect, with its Southern influences and use of phrases like “y’all and “fixin’ to,” has long carried with it a stigma of being uneducated, poor — from the sticks. However, more people are beginning to consider the drawl as part of Okie heritage, something to be celebrated and preserved.

Okay. So, it’s probably pretty easy to see why speech quirks specific to Oklahomans are dying away. We kind of all just talk like the people we hear on TV, there are fewer rural people than ever, and for the most part, we talk by texting in weird abbreviations that aren’t a dialect so much as the digital Newspeak. Even if we want to preserve a different way of talking, it’s not like we would hear it every day.

Except in one case.

And that, my friends, is the new Oklahoma dialect. It consists of one phrase, and it’s a phrase that I would like to eradicate from the English language, even if it’s a very “Oklahoma” way to talk. What’s that phrase?

Unsweet tea.

I hate that phrase so very much, but if you ever order tea at a restaurant, the server will ask if you want sweet or unsweet tea, when they should ask if you want tea or sweet tea. For those of you who can’t see why this is an assault on my ears, I’ll explain.

The prefix “un” can indicate “not” or the “opposite of”, which you would think would be okay in this situation. But it’s not. Here’s why. Sweet tea, is, in effect, sweetened tea. It is tea that has undergone a process to change its flavor. Therefore when you say “unsweet” tea, you are saying “unsweetened” tea. This is the second definition of the “un” prefix–“to reverse or undo the result of a specified action.” And if you make plain old ice tea by first making sweet tea, and then somehow filtering out the sugar to its pre-diabetic coma-inducing state, BOY HAVE I GOT A LIFE-CHANGING SECRET ABOUT MAKING TEA TO SHARE WITH YOU.

So, why is this a uniquely Oklahoma issue? Well, because we all seem to have grown up with sun tea made in jars on the porch that was later mixed with sugar until it formed a kind of simple syrup poured over ice. Sweet tea is first and foremost on our minds, first and foremost a part of our collective unconscious. And that is why we can’t fathom a tea that did not come to being as a sickly-sweet mess, only to be purified into something that is not sweet tea.

As for “unsweet tea” being the new Oklahoma dialect, I’m sure it’s here to stay. But I won’t let it exist without a fight.