My son has a saying that alternately amuses and annoys me. He hurls, “That’s not for you, Mom” at me whenever I pick up and try to run with the local teenage vernacular.

Awesomesauce. (That’s not for you, Mom.)

Though occasionally I step gracefully away from the offending phrase, more often I bristle with indignation. After all, doesn’t that fly in the face of one of my most beloved topics: speaking in the local accent?

Leave it to a cheesy 80s movie to show me the light. It all became clear to me last weekend when I had the privilege of introducing said son to Better Off Dead. Early in the flick, David Odgen Stiers, who plays the father character, tries to have a serious talk with his son. He really wants to connect, so he uses a how-to-talk-to-your-teenager book as reference during the conversation. Unfortunately, he screws up every phrase he tries to adopt. Bring me down becomes bring me over. Right on becomes right off. He never gets it right, and the whole conversation sounds contrived. (Of course, it is contrived. It’s an 80s movie, after all.)

DOS doesn’t pull it off because he has no credibility. He’s not using the words in normal conversation, handling them comfortably. He struggles along, bearing them like unwieldy burdens. If this were a real life situation, people will look at him and giggle at best. At worst, they would sneer and walk away, hurling a jibe over the shoulder as they leave.

When you put on the accent, you have to be sincere. You have to be credible. You can’t sound contrived or mocking or even clueless. Otherwise, it’s not for you.

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