The man kind of rolled his eyes when I mentioned the other fellow’s name. “He’s a ‘pay nass,’” he said with a wave, and that ended it.
On the Eastern Shore, some of the people I know can take four words and string them together in a dismissive, two-word mumble.
They say it so many times that all the edges on the words are sanded and worn, and the dialect flows smoothly and quickly, like ditch water after a hard rain.
A “pay nass” has nothing to do with paying of any sort. The un-word “nass” sounds like an acronym for a government agency, and could be.
But read it again, and sound it out. Add in the two missing words, and it becomes “Pain in the,” and the last word rhymes with “nass.”
The result, among the people to whom I listen a lot, becomes a description of an annoying person, tedious and trifling both.
But it is said with the memorable diction of the true Eastern Shoreman, some of whom speak like they have a mouthful of raw oysters.
This is the enunciation of my people, and I was raised on it, and am sometimes a practitioner of it.
All of us have known, or have worked with, a pay nass.
As in: “Old so-and-so has been a pay nass since grade school, and I saw him the other day, and he’s still a pay nass.”
Or: “Mr. Big Ideas is such a pay nass when he skips around flapping his yap about goals and productivity, and I’ve never actually seen the sucker lift a pencil.”
This is usually used in tandem with another slung-together term, pronounced “d’ell wittum,” which is the phrase for cutting ties with a pay nass.
“D’ell wittum” sounds like a Latin legal term, like “ad litem” or “pro bono.” Instead, it is a distinctly Eastern Shore way of banishing someone to purgatory.
“He was fine before he went off to college, but then he got that job in D.C. and came back home last weekend and was a complete pay nass. So d’ell wittum.”
The phrases “pay nass” and “d’ell wittum” are sometimes used in conjuction with another local lowbrow term, “cot ta’mighty,” usually pronounced exactly like that.
“Cot ta’mighty,” is sometimes whispered — like when one’s credit card is turned down during a beer run. It’s whispered because one does not holler while buying beer in a convenience store on a Thursday morning.
That’s because all the commotion might draw attention, and people might think you are drinking too early in the day, and be a complete pay nass about it.
But “cot ta’mighty,” is also yelled — like when one doesn’t have a metric socket handy and uses a standard instead, and it ends up rounding the edges off the nut.
“Cot ta’mighty” is also the official language of dropping stuff, scraped knuckles, and can’t-find-the-matching-sock situations.
It is on the border of taking the Lord’s name in vain, and therefore risky business.
The words “God” and “almighty,” used with reverence, are the stuff of pew prayers and dinner-table blessings. But in furious, hasty exclamation, the words frequently come out as “cot ta’mighty,” which perhaps is a slice of sin, but not the whole pie.
It has a close cousin in “laud’m ersie,” which is usually saved for the most profound situations.
Spelled out, “Lord have mercy” is asking for divine grace and peace in a time of worldly trials and troubles.
“Lord have mercy” is a three-word prayer. “Laud’m ersie” is a catchphrase used to express disappointment or gratitude.
“Laud’m ersie” is the reaction to flat tires and typos. “Laud’m ersie” is the reaction to intense midnight thunderstorms and almost hitting a deer at dusk.
“Laud’m ersie” can also be used in positive situations, and is the universal reaction to a mouthful of warm peach cobbler topped with vanilla ice cream.
The more I hear about both parties involved in Washington, D.C., politics, the more I speak these Eastern Shore phrasings.
Cot ta’mighty, those politicians may be a pay nass, but you’d think they’d agree on something, laud’m ersie.
The writer is editor and general manager of the Eastern Shore Post. Reach him at [email protected].