Read this before you ‘collar a nod’ or ‘grab a hot’

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“Collar a nod,” means to get some sleep.

“Grab a hot?” That could be a way to say you’re going to get some food.

They’re expressions used by Zora Neale Hurston, pictured above. The Harlem Renaissance writer and African-American anthropologist, collected the dialect phrases and used them in her novels.

Thanks, by the way, to the Zora Neale Hurston Trust and to the Yale Library for permission to use the Hurston photo.

And, thanks to the Penumbra Theater folks in St. Paul for putting on “Spunk,” the stage version of three Hurston stories where audience members can hear a whole bunch of dialect used by the people Hurston lived among during the early 1900s.

Today as part of All Things Considered you can hear my new Minnesota Sounds and Voices report where Penumbra’s associate artistic director Sarah Bellamy talks about Hurston’s use of dialect.

Bellamy explains, these were people who didn’t always want to be understood by white people. They wanted a more or less private way of communicating in their own code or language as they created a new identity after the horrors of slavery.

That helps explain why as a white guy attending a “Spunk” performance recently, I struggled to understand some of the actors. They rocket through some of the dialogue as though born to the language.

But as T. Mychael Rambo, one of the actors, says, this was not the language he grew up with as a child raised in Texas. He and the others had to study the script and sought voice coaching to catch the rhythm of the dialect that Hurston collected.

The reward for audience members is hearing how our common language is adapted and used with cleverness and intelligence to express the range of emotions that shape the human condition.

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