I just decided today that I can’t play piano because of my first-grade teacher’s southern accent.

For my first few days in the first-grade classroom of Miss Margaret Mackintosh at Mount Vernon Goodwin Elementary School in Raleigh, NC, in 1957, I was puzzled by the kids who left the classroom at odd times during the day to take Miss Margaret “out.”

I couldn’t understand why Miss Margaret would need little kids to take her out, presumably to dinner. I was even more puzzled because Miss Margaret did not go with them on these mysterious excursions. How could they take Miss Margaret out when she didn’t even go with them?

Later I learned I had been the victim of a linguistic difference between Miss Margaret and the dialect I learned at home. Miss Margaret was not in fact asking to be taken to dinner. She was inviting students to take piano, which she pronounced as “pee-ann-uh.”

Unfortunately, the piano-lessons boat had already left the dock, and I had missed my opportunity.

AB — 10 Sept., 2009

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