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A Question of Phonetic Literacy and the Unwillingness to Look Up a Word

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Them Molasses

In class today, students expressed skepticism that folks in Appalachia referred to molasses as a plural when speaking of them. But in this oral history from 1915 titled “You Really Had to Work to Keep Them Molasses,” we see a treatment of the word that does use the plural pronoun “them” when referring to the sweet stuff. We see this clearly in this quote from the interview with Eunice Austin:

And as the molasses would cook, they’d have divisions in that pan, and over here would be when the juice would start coming in. And then after they started thickening a little bit, it had a place that would close up, and they’d open that up and let that juice, as it started to thicken, come over in the next section. And it would cook so long in that section. And then at the last they would let them go over in the third section to finish cooking. And you had to stay with them all the time and keep stirring them to keep them from sticking, after they started thickening.

I first learned about the plural pronoun use when doing a linguistic study of my family in Johnson County, Tennessee. At dinner, someone asked for “them molasses, ” and when I asked, I was told this was standard for the area. Since then, whenever I have made mention of the practice, it’s been met with disbelief. From now on, I have the needed proof that this is a regional colloquialism extending past my family.