Has there ever truly been a genius who had a thick, stereotypical Southern accent?

This is so unimportant I’m gonna ask it here rather than GQ.

I know you’re all familiar with Travis Taylor, that scientist with the thick, stereotypical Southern accent that you’ve doubtless seen on shows like Secret of Skinwalker Ranch or Ancient Aliens or Rocket City Rednecks. Check out his Wikipedia bio- he’s quite accomplished and holds multiple P.H.D.s., but does that necessarily qualify him as a full-fledged “genius?” I doubt it.

I’ve done some Googling, and found this article called “Big Brains and Southern Accents”, which covers this topic pretty well yet still fails to come up with any Southern-accented person I would ever truly consider an all-around “genius.”

TVTropes also has a page called SouthernFriedGenius which covers the fictional (and usually just played for laughs) trope of a genius with a Southern accent.

So my question still stands- has there ever truly been a Da Vinci, Einstein, Picasso, or even a Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg- level smart person who truly spoke in a thick, stereotypical Southern accent? I’d be gollydang flabbergasted as a three legged dog if you can name one!

William Faulkner? Though it depends on what you mean by thick—he had an unmistakable Southern accent.

I cannot name one, but I know plenty of people who are very well educated, skilled, qualified professionals, etc who are able to speak in such a heavy accent and jargon - and do so at home with family or friends - but who are also able to “code switch” (change register? I’m not sure of the terminology for this) to a more neutral accent and vocabulary when necessary. I expect most “genius” professionals can do this.

My one colleague that I know best - an electrical engineer with 25+ years in aerospace - when he goes “full Texan” is unintelligible to my Canadian ears. His accent is fairly moderate otherwise. If I go “Montreal Franglais” on him though, he can’t understand a word of that slang either.

Jimmy Carter?



I think Bill Clinton might’ve tested genius. That didn’t keep him from being a fool.

Along similar lines, playwright Tennessee Williams and journalist/novelist Willie Morris are also rural Mississippians like Faulkner.

But if you’re raising the bar to DaVinci and Picasso … a lot of places haven’t produced one of them.

Since you apparently will accept visual artists, will you accept musicians? Is Louis Armstrong a genius?

I suspect that most people who would be considered “geniuses,” due to their involvement in science, engineering, the arts, etc., wind up spending significant time away from the areas where they were born, and in particular, at universities, in big metropolitan areas, and among people who come from other areas (and who have other accents).

There are undoubtedly “geniuses” who never leave their small towns in the South – and have very pronounced Southern accents – but most of us have probably never heard of them.

Exactly this. I know that I, growing up in northeastern Wisconsin, had a fairly pronounced Wisconsin accent (see comedian Charlie Berens’ “Manitowoc Minute” bits on YouTube for a slightly exaggerated example of that accent), but years spent in more cosmopolitan areas (first Madison, then the Chicago area) lessened my accent. That said, when I spend time back in Green Bay, especially if I’m talking with locals, I’ve been told by my non-Wisconsinite wife that the accent comes back, even subconsciously.

It would not surprise me that Jimmy Carter, for example, had a more pronounced Southern accent when he was a young person, growing up in rural Georgia, than he did later on, after spending time in the Navy, and in bigger cities (and among more people who were not from rural Georgia). It also would not surprise me that, when he was among locals, and away from cameras, that Carter’s accent became more pronounced again.

raises hand

If business acumen counts, Sam Walton was at Gates and Zuckerberg’s level in his time. Walton was born in Oklahoma and raised in rural Missouri — so while he had a Southern accent, he might not have had one like the OP is stipulating.

George Ohr the great Biloxi, MS ceramicist and art potter was considered a genius.

I don’t have any audio recordings to check, but I would be willing to bet George Washington Carver had a strong southern accent given his area of birth, studies, and life. The only thing mentioned about his speech is that due to his early life and poor health at the time, he was considered to speak with a high pitch/

Granted, some of his accomplishments may or may not rise to the rarified heights requested by the OP, but given the circumstances of his life and accomplishments despite them, I feel he should qualify.


I’ve known a couple people with very heavy southern accents who graduated from high school.

How about Harper Lee?

It might not be a heavy accent, at least when he’s speaking on/to camera, but Destin from Smarter Every Day has a southern accent. In fact, he went to the same school Travis Taylor went to. His bio mentions that he’s happy to be ‘the guy with the southern accent’ at lectures. I can’t find it, but I’m almost positive he’s mentioned that he’s amused by the amount of people coming out of that college and/or working at the nearby NASA facility that are really smart but, and I don’t remember how it was phrased, you wouldn’t guess it due to their accent.

Not directly related to the OP, but close: National
Public Radio’s Eleanor Beardsley is their reporter for all things French (and, by extension, often the European Union), and she has a thick Southern accent.

It shouldn’t, but this always sounds incongruous to me. Growing up in the NY suburbs, I associated French language and culture with “sophisticated and intellectual,” and a thick Southern accent with the opposite. I still can’t help but be judgmental and amused every time I hear Beardsley interview some European politician or describe something French.

(I see that, decades ago, she was Strom Thurmond’s assistant. Can’t get more Southern than that!)

The word “genius” is culturally loaded. If Picasso was a genius, so was Louis Armstrong.

This may be partly due to the phenomenon where geniuses are often less appreciated in their homeland than abroad. I would bet a higher percentage of Europeans than Americans consider Armstrong a genius.

Looking at that website you mentioned, it listed Lyle Lovett, Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, William Faulkner, Bill Clinton, Harper Lee, Martin Luther King, Jr, Bill Moyers, E. O. Wilson, Rick Bragg, Flannery O’Conner, Shelby Foote, Philip Sharp, Stanford Moore, Stanley Cohen, Earl Sutherland, Max Delbruck, John Mallette, and Nancy Roman, among others as people who grew up in the South and presumably spoke in Southern accents and who were very smart if maybe not quite geniuses. You give Da Vinci, Einstein, and Picasso as your examples of geniuses. They didn’t even grow up speaking English. How do you know what accent of their native languages they spoke? Perhaps the accent they grew up speaking was considered a hick accent for that language. This question is too vague. How smart do you have to be to be considered a genius? How strong a Southern accent do they need to speak in to be considered Southerners?

James Carville comes to mind as a pretty smart and successful political strategist.

This is very true, though I also would not be surprised to learn that Carville accentuates his Southern accent when speaking publicly, as his Louisiana background is part of the persona that he’s cultivated.