Not too long ago, the word just came out of Justin Jackson’s mouth. It wasn’t a conscious choice to say what he said. He didn’t necessarily want to say it, either.
And yet there it was, slipping out in casual conversation: “Dadgum.”
“It kind of scared me at first, whenever I first used it,” Jackson, the North Carolina sophomore forward, said. “Because it was like, ‘Whoa. That’s coach rubbing off.’”
“Coach” is UNC’s Roy Williams, who sprinkles “dadgum” throughout his speech the way others might use “um,” “you know” and “I mean” as linguistic space fillers. After his team’s victory against Indiana in the Sweet 16 on Friday, Williams used the word twice in his opening statement.
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Williams possesses his own lexicon and perhaps should come with his own glossary. Call it Roynacular, Williams’ use of expressions and words such as “Jiminy Christmas” and “blankety-blank” and “frickin’.”
Williams uses “dadgum” and “frickin’ ” so much because they help him avoid saying something stronger.
“When I grew up there was a lot of foul language,” Williams, 65, who grew up outside of Asheville, said earlier this week when asked about some of his word choices. “When I became a high school player, my coach never did that.
“When I first went to Kansas (as head coach), I told them to give me seven curse words a year. And pretty much I stuck to that the first couple of years.”
But then, Williams said, his rivals began chiding him for his clean image. At Kansas State, they began calling him “Mr. Perfect.”
Williams didn’t like it. And so not long after he’d heard of the nickname, Williams during a press conference said he had “said a-s-s to somebody.”
“Just to show them I wasn’t perfect kind of thing,” Williams said, using another one of his unique figures of speech – “kind of thing.” “I think I overreacted and went too much in that direction.”
And so here Williams is. He’d prefer not to use profanity, he said, but the seven-curse-word-a-season limit disappeared long ago.
Saturday marks the fourth Final Four for Williams at UNC, which means that this weekend in Houston the American sporting public will perhaps be trying to figure out what he’s talking about, and why he says what he does the way he does.
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody use some of the words that he uses,” Jackson said.
Fairly common, too, are Williams’ terms of endearment for his players. Words such as “rascal” and “sucker” and “youngster.”
At various points throughout his four seasons at UNC, Marcus Paige, the senior guard, has been a “tough little nut,” according to Williams. After the Tar Heels’ victory against Indiana in the East regional semifinal, though, Paige had morphed from “little nut” to “little sucker.”
The transformation between “nut” and “sucker” is constant, one morphing into the other, given Williams’ affinity for the descriptors. Yet in the parlance of Ol’ Roy, a nickname that owes its creation in large part to Williams’ country, colloquial speech, “dadgum” is the MVW – most valuable word.
Williams’ affinity for “dadgum” helped inspire a parody Twitter account, “Daggum Roy,” that has nearly 20,000 followers. The individual who runs the account, a UNC fan who wrote that he’d like to remain anonymous, started it in 2010 and wrote that he was “pretty surprised” at its following.
“That’s why you like him,” the man behind Daggum Roy wrote in a direct message through Twitter, referring to Williams’ bluntness and say-what’s-on-my-mind attitude. “He’s everyman.”
In addition to Daggum Roy, there’s also a T-shirt made by defunct Chapel Hill casualwear clothing line Thrill City that says “Daggum” followed by some of Roy’s favorite sayings, including “Gosh Darnit” and “Give A Flip.” The shirt was sold under the name, “Roycabularly.”
Williams uses “dadgum” in a variety of ways and for a variety of purposes.
To express joy: “Let us enjoy this dadgum game,” he said after the Tar Heels’ 88-74 victory against Notre Dame on Sunday when a reporter tried to ask a question looking ahead to the national semifinal on Saturday against Syracuse.
And to express pain: “The NCAA needs to buy a dadgum new table – the dadgum leg just broke my bad knee,” Williams said after his team’s victory against Indiana Friday night.
Sometimes, Williams uses it alongside another of his words to make a point especially clear. Like on the day before UNC’s game against Providence in the second round of the NCAA tournament. The game didn’t begin until almost 10 p.m.
“I’ve got to sit in the dadgum hotel room,” Williams said then. “I wake up at 6 in the morning, don’t go to work until frickin’ 9:30 at night.”
Dadgum. Frickin’. Tried and true Roynacular classics.
Williams tries to keep it clean – thus his use of “blankety blank” and the like – but sometimes strong language comes out in interviews. During a press conference a few weeks ago, he used a scatalogical term for horse manure to describe the notion that UNC had played a weak ACC schedule.
An infamous moment came in 2003 when, after his Kansas team lost to Syracuse in the national championship game, Williams said he could give a “blankety-blank” – to borrow one of his terms to edit what he actually said – about the UNC head coaching vacancy he eventually filled.
“Sometimes I screw it up and say things I wish I hadn’t said,” Williams said. “But I do believe in talking properly and I do believe in not cursing, but sometimes it just happens and I let it go. I don’t think it’s the biggest sin I have.”
Western N.C. drawl
In a lot of ways Williams owes his speech, and his speech patterns to growing up in the mountains of North Carolina. Williams, 65, talks with a drawl born, like he was, in Western North Carolina.
He guesses that’s where “Jiminy Christmas” came from and “guaran-dadgum-tee you,” too. He broke out that one in a recent press conference.
“It’s just ‘Mayberry R.F.D.,’ I guess,” Williams said, referencing the late-1960s, early-’70s spinoff of “The Andy Griffith Show.”
To Williams’ players, his language patterns and way of speech have become ingrained. They know what he’s talking about, even when they might not.
Like, for instance, the time earlier this season when, during a film review session, Williams described Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks as “one-arm swingers.” That was Williams’ way of calling the starters in his frontcourt “garbage men” – befitting of their play at the time, in Williams’ opinion.
By then, Johnson and Meeks had been around Williams for a while. They could speak his language, understand it. It’s something of an adjustment at first, though.
“When he first started recruiting me, I thought that’s how people from the South just spoke,” said Paige, the senior guard from Iowa. “I’m from the Midwest and in Iowa … there’s no distinct dialect or accent. So he calls me on the phone, I just figured that’s how everyone down here speaks.”
It wasn’t long, though, before Paige learned that, no – that’s just how Williams speaks, in his own special Roynacular.