One of my friends, who grew up a long way south of South Dakota, maintains that people here speak with a South Dakota accent. He claims that when he first moved here more than 30 years ago he could hear the accent, but by now, having adopted it himself, he doesn't notice it any more.
Well, duh. Of course he doesn't notice it. That's because we don't have an accent. Everybody (well, at least everybody from this part of the country) knows that. People from Georgia have accents. People from North Carolina do. People from Oklahoma. Even transplanted Texans like my friend have accents.
One of the regional idioms my friend finds amusing is "kind of different." It's a classic piece of understatement, perhaps arising from the German, Norwegian, and Swedish roots so many of us have. It's a useful shorthand for describing anyone who is, well, different.
"He's kind of different" can cover those who commit fashion blunders like wearing their jeans tucked into their cowboy boots. It can describe social nonconformists with six lip piercings. It can condemn serious misbehavior like not paying your property taxes or bullying your wife. It can poke holes in grand ideas like a belief that raising ostriches in South Dakota is a great way to get rich quick. It can even stretch to cover cases of genuine mental disturbance—the guy who sees jet trails as evidence of the government's plot to control the weather comes to mind.
Southerners accomplish a similar purpose with a different phrase (said with an accent, of course): "Bless her heart."
True, sometimes this is said with love and means exactly what it says. As in, "Bless her heart, she's going through a hard time these days."
But there's also a more nuanced version. "He must be proud of the tops of those cowboy boots, bless his heart." Or, "Bless her heart, with all those piercings I hope she never tries to drink out of a straw." "Or, "He really believes in those ostriches, bless his heart."
Even if their origins and accents may be different, these phrases have one thing in common. They are both delicately non-judgmental ways of expressing a strong judgment without actually having to say anything rude. Presumably, the ultimate graceful put-down would be to transcend geographic and linguistic boundaries and combine the two expressions. "Yep, she's kind of different—bless her heart."