A few years ago, sitting on the floor of the U.S. House with my friend Rep. Jim Walsh of Syracuse, I said of the member who was speaking: “Curt’s dyed his hair.”

Jim looked at me, very seriously, and said: “Curt’s dad is here?”

People who grew up in East Tennessee, as I did, are accustomed to being teased about our accents.

I sometimes say, when speaking to groups from around the nation, that I come from the only part of the United States where the people speak without any accent.  I say this in jest, but it actually has some truth to it.

Many years ago, on an elevator in Washington, a woman heard my father speaking with my younger sister.  She said, “You must be from Eastern Tennessee or Western North Carolina.”  (Natives of Tennessee always say “East,” never “Eastern,” Tennessee).

Dad replied: “We are.  How did you know?”

The woman explained that she was a college professor who specialized in American dialects and that those were the only two places where the people still spoke “authentic Chaucer English.”

Years later, I heard a talk in Knoxville by another professor who said that the tone, dialect, and inflection of native East Tennesseans was the closest to what some called the King’s English, the English of Shakespeare.  Yet those of us from East Tennessee have been teased so much that some have grown up with unjustified inferiority complexes about our accents.

When I was a student at the University of Tennessee, I heard some of my former high-school classmates talking in fake Northern accents, which sounded slightly ridiculous.

My own daughter was embarrassed when a friend of hers told her that a female speech professor at the University of Tennessee had made fun of my accent.  My daughter said, “Dad, how do you spell Washington?”  I replied: “W-o-r-s-h-i-n-g-t-o-n.”

A few months later, while attending a family reunion in rural Scott County, Tennessee, 70 miles north of Knoxville, my children and I drove by a car wash in Oneida whose sign read “W-A-R-S-H H-O-U-S-E.”  Since I had spent some of my early years at my grandparents’ small farm in that county, I told my children: “Now you see where I got part of my accent.”

When people make fun of me, I usually joke right back.  A couple of years ago, I went to an Orioles game in Baltimore.  At the concession stand, I ordered a hot dog and coke.  The man working there immediately said “Where are you from?” in a tone that suggested I had said something wrong.

I replied, “Well, I’m from Tennessee, but, with my accent, you probably thought I was from New York or Connecticut.”

I occasionally get asked if I am from Texas.  Many Texans have Tennessee ancestors, and we sometimes say that, if there had not been a Tennessee, there never would have been a Texas.  (But my Dad would add that, if there had been a back door at the Alamo, there might still not be a Texas.)

The small town of Vonore and its surrounding area in my district have become very popular places to retire.  Most of the retirees are from “up north” and pronounce Vonore very differently from the natives.  The mayor of Vonore once told me that two recently retired men were sitting in a Hardees discussing the name of the town.  They called over a woman who worked there, and one of the men asked, “Would you pronounce for us, very slowly, the name of the place we’re at?”  The woman said, very slowly, “HAR—DEES.”

A reporter for USA Today called me a few years ago and asked if anyone teased me about my “Southern” accent.  I told her I didn’t have a Southern accent.  She insisted that I did, because she wanted to get some material for her story.  I told her that I had an East Tennessee accent, which is something very distinct and different from a Southern accent.

Yet, as our nation grows more bland and homogenized with each passing year and regional differences slowly disappear, some say that our varied accents will soon be a thing of the past.  A couple of years ago, the wife of an official in Blount County, Tennessee, told me that so many people were moving there that “you can’t hear an East Tennessee accent in the Wal-Mart anymore.”  I think people should be proud to be whatever they are and proud to be from wherever they are from.

A few years ago, I read in a magazine for the legal profession that someone had done a study of the phenomenal success Southern lawyers were having in front of New York juries.  The main point was that juries can usually spot a phony and that, whether you were a Southern lawyer in front of a Northern jury or vice versa, it would be a mistake to try to fake an accent and to try to be something you are not.

I think this applies not just to the legal profession but to all walks of life.

I am proud to be from East Tennessee, and, even though I may be teased, I will just relax and keep speaking “authentic Chaucer English.”