Can’t Take The South Out Of The Girl: Kentucky Born & Raised

It’s true. I am from Kentucky. A place far less glamorous or sexy than the better-known California / New York / Miami. A place so adrift among the middle-of-the-country-melange, it might as well be Ohio. Or…Arkansas. Oklahoma? NO—Nebraska.

It might as well be any of the other forgotten-about states.

People rarely know what Kentucky is (a type of chicken?). They don’t know where it’s located (next to…Michigan?). And they’re baffled how someone from The Bluegrass State could emerge neither illiterate nor inbred (that’s possible?).

You would be surprised how much there is to the state, AND how well we Kentuckians can turn out.

Kentucky, United States. Author unknown, licensing unknown.
Image Credit: Kentucky, United States. Author unknown, licensing unknown.

Although not everyone’s sure it’s in The South. I had a guy at a party in Portland, OR, once badger me, “You’re wrong. Kentucky’s totally in the Midwest.”

I glared at him for two full minutes.

Turns out, Kentucky is among the northernmost states of the South. It may be on the cusp, and Georgia and Louisiana may have more stereotypically southern accents going for them, but that’s neither here nor there. Just because Southern California is often more like Mexi-Hollywood than the rest of the state, doesn’t mean it’s not all part of the same place.

News flash: KENTUCKY IS AS SOUTHERN AS QUILTING FESTIVALS AND BACON GREASE.

Census Regions and Divisions (USA)
Image credit: Census Regions and Divisions of the United States (image in the public domain)
Southern English Map, by Nomatterwhereigo, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
The approximate extent of Southern American English. [Image Credit: Southern English Map, by Nomatterwhereigo, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.]

Many regions, in fact, fall along linguistic boundaries, dividing us according to how we speak. Chances are pretty good that your average Southerner speaks with some form of a Southern dialect. Kentuckians, in particular, speak a mix of Southern Appalachian & South Midland / Inland dialects (here’s about what it sounds like, although there’s wide variation even in our great state!).

What does all this mean, folks? It means a Kentuckian can sound more similar to parts of Arkansas and Texas than to South Carolina or Mississippi. So while not all Southerner’s are the same, we’re one BIG Southern family.

Southern Cooking
Image credit: Soul Food at Powell’s Place by Jennifer Woodard Maderazo, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In all, Kentucky is broad and varied and layered. And it’s so so so many things that non-Southerners will never understand.

It’s…

Bourbon

Beam_Rack_House-md
Image credit: Beam Rack House by Bbadgett, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Horse Racing

Photo credit: Horseracing (sic.) Churchill Downs, author: Jeff Kubina, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Image credit: Horseracing (sic.) Churchill Downs by Jeff Kubina, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Beautiful Mountains

Image credit: Courthouse Rock at Red River Gorge, Kentucky, by Corey Heitz, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Image credit: Courthouse Rock at Red River Gorge, Kentucky, by Corey Heitz, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (changes made: decreased exposure, increased color vibrancy, and improved image clarity).

Bluegrass Music

'Virginia Stringband' in 1937
Image Credit: ‘Virginia Stringband’ in 1937 (image in the public domain)

Delicious Food and Food Traditions: Cornbread, Mint Julep, KY Hot Brown, and Bourbon Balls

Cornbread in a cast iron pan by Douglas P. Perkins, licensed under CC BY 3.0
Image credit: Cornbread in a cast iron pan by Douglas P. Perkins, licensed under CC BY 3.0
Mint Julep in Silver Cup (original title: Mint Julep im Silberbecher), Cocktailmarler, CC BY 3.0
Image credit: Mint Julep in Silver Cup (original title: Mint Julep im Silberbecher) by Cocktailmarler, licensed under CC BY 3.0.
 A Real Kentucky Hot Brown by Phil Denton, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Image Credit: A Real Kentucky Hot Brown by Phil Denton, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Rum Ball Cookies (similar to Bourbon Balls) by BenFrantzDale~commonswiki (assumed), licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Image Credit: Rum Ball Cookies (similar to Bourbon Balls) by BenFrantzDale~commonswiki (assumed), licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Unique Geographic Features: Mammoth Cave and Land Between the Lakes (there’s buffalo there)

Mammoth_Cave_tour-md
Image Credit: Mammoth Cave Tour by Dschwen, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
American bison (aka, buffalo), image in the public domain
Image Credit: American bison, a.k.a. buffalo (image in the public domain)

Historic Architecture

Shakertown_Trustees_House_2005-05-27-md
Image credit: Shakertown Trustees House by Tom Allen, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Original Cultural Events: Woodsong’s Old Time Radio Hour & Pioneer Playhouse
Woodsongs-md

Pioneer Playhouse (Danville, KY)
Image Credit: Main Street Village, Pioneer Playhouse in Danville, KY, by FloNight (Sydney Poore) and Russell Poore, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Plus, many famous people were born or grew up here: George Clooney, Muhammad Ali, Johnny Depp, Wendell Berry, Dianne Sawyer and Jennifer Lawrence. By that line of reasoning, it can’t be such a bad breeding ground for people (though I’m unable to explain Mitch McConnell).

Inevitably, there are many less “mainstream” parts to KY culture, like:

Snake Handling Preachers

Image Credit: Snake Handling (image in the public domain)
Image Credit: Snake Handling (image in the public domain)

Mountaintop Removal

Mountaintop Removal Mine Site above Route 23 in Pike County, Kentucky. By Matt Wasson, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Image Credit: Mountaintop Removal Mine Site above Route 23 in Pike County, Kentucky. By Matt Wasson of Applachian Voices, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

…and Fort Knox  (historic home of the nation’s gold reserves):

Fort Knox
Image Credit: United States Gold Bullion Depository (Fort Knox, Kentucky) by Michael Vadon, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

But there’s also Derby Pie

Derby Pie (original title: Kentucky Chocolate Walnut PIe) by Markmark28, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Image Credit: Derby Pie (original title: Kentucky Chocolate Walnut Pie) by Markmark28, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Flying Squirrels

Buddy doing a massive belly flop on a camping trip to Nehalem falls.
Image Credit: A “flying squirrel” by Scott Swigart, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Quality Artisan Crafts

Rocker in the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, by Carl Wycoff, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Image Credit: Rocker in the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, by Carl Wycoff, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

And, of course…nothing gets better than this:

Horse at Kentucky Horse Park by Wes Blevins, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5
Horse at Kentucky Horse Park by Wes Blevins, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

Ultimately, you are the one who decides what’s worth paying attention to. We welcome you to come visit if you want to discover more. But if you don’t want to come—don’t. That’s fine.

We’ll keep the secret to ourselves.

Here are a few more things that make Kentucky unique:

Food, Food Places & Events

People, Culture & Events

Places

The Natural World

  • Lake Cumberland, houseboat mecca, with more shoreline than the entire state of Florida
  • Mammoth Cave, the longest cave network in the world
  • Red River Gorge, with some of the country’s best rock climbing
  • Land Between The Lakes – it has buffalo!
  • Big South Fork, a national park that has nothing to do with food
  • The Central Kentucky Wildlife Refuge

Cool Facts

  • Elk reintroduction began in 1997, and now KY has the largest free ranging, wild elk herd east of Montana
  • KY is 3rd on the list of states with the most counties (120; Georgia at 159; Texas at 254)
  • President Lincoln was born in Hodgenville, KY, and grew up in Knob Creek, KY
  • It may truly be the horse capital of the world
  • The nation’s first Poet Laureate, Robert Penn Warren, is from KY
  • The origins of Bluegrass Music are in KY…you’re welcome, world!
  • There’s a town called, Monkey’s Eyebrow; another called, Possum Trot (we all realize it should be spelled ‘Oppossum’), and finally: Happy Farm. Again, you’re welcome.

NOTE: There are many more ‘technically superior’ linguistic maps out there than what I’ve included in this post. Should you like further references for US English dialects, check out these maps.

To learn more about Southern Culture, stay tuned for my upcoming post, Can’t Take The South Out Of The Girl: Southern Proud. And for stories on how my Southern cultural roots bump up against Italian culture, I’m currently working on a post called, Can’t Take The South Out Of The Girl: Italian Stunned. Check back soon!

Now it’s your turn: What are you favorite places in Kentucky, and what would you tell someone about the great state who was planning a visit? Not from Kentucky? What would you want to see on your trip to the Bluegrass State? Share in the comments below, and I’ll put the best ideas in a follow-up post!

[Feature Image Credit: Kentucky road sign on Interstate 65 (original title: Kentucky schild), author: Andreas Faessler, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.]

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