Bless your heart

If you’ve never lived in the South, you’ve never had the privilege of hearing some of the most  fantastic oratory in this country.  And no, I’m not just talking about the diversity of accents and dialects down here.  I’m talking about the way people speak.  In particular, if you ever get the chance to listen to a Southern woman talk (usually about other people), stop and listen.

There are amazing quips and phrases that are heard on a daily basis in the South.  Some are very often in the form of a simile or metaphors.  Some of my favorites:

  • Fixing to: which means you are about to do something.  
  • Fixens: All the special trimmings with a meal (not to be confused with the phrase above)
  • Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
  • More _____ than you can swing a dead cat at (Ok I actually don’t like this one much with the deceased animal reference)
  • Devil is beating his wife: It’s raining and the sun is shining simultaneously
  • You’re not from ’round here are ya?: We know you’re an outsider. We will keep an eye on you. (Usually said after you mispronounce one of our towns/streets/etc)
  • Rode hard and hung up to dry: looking pretty haggard
  • Sweating like a whore in church
  • He/She is dumber than a bag of hammers.
  • Gimme some sugar: Kiss/hug me.  Usually said to small children or cutesy to lovers.

But one of my favorite things about Southern oratory is the backhanded compliment.  If “you’re not from around here” you might confuse someone as complimenting you when really they’re pointing out your foibles.  I always tell people one of the best ways to spot it is to listen to the following phrase, it will usually precede or follow the aforementioned backhanded compliment or to soften the blow of a outright insult.

“Bless your heart.”

I adore this Southernism.  I like to use it whenever I can, and generally spread the gospel of “bless your heart” to my non-Southern friends.  How is it used?  Usually in conjunction with another Southernism.  For example: “He’s dumber than a bag of hammers, bless his heart.”  Now, see that doesn’t sound quite as bad as “he’s a dumbass” does it?  Throw in a nice drawl and I just want to sop it up with a biscuit.*

Another way to use “bless your heart” is when you see or hear someone doing something in an entirely wrong or bad way.  For example, when you see someone doing a terrible job of parking a giant car and then see it’s a little old lady who can barely see over the steering wheel and you say “bless her heart.”  Or recently when the woman at my gym was really trying to convince me that I needed to join their couch to 5k training group while I was wearing this shirt:

I almost never wear this shirt because it screams "I RAN A HALF MARATHON!"

I almost never wear this shirt because it screams “I RAN A HALF MARATHON!”

Or recently when I was getting my numbers checked at my gym and the employee helping me noticed my weight, BMI, body fat, and looked at me and said, “Wow…um…you must lift a lot of weights?”  Why thank you sweet Southern lady who was trying to think of the most polite way to say she was surprised by how healthy my numbers were.

* Gotta love this one.  Biscuits are a staple of Southern gastronomy.  They’re used to sop up the gravy, juices, chocolate, whatever is left on a plate.

So what are your favorite Southernisms?  Or do you have any that you need translating?

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2 Responses

  1. I love this round-up! My late father-in-law from Arkansas was always ripe with excellent Southern-isms. My favorite were “suck egg mule” [which actually apparently originated from AR: “SUCK-EGG MULE, an irritating, worthless liability. Literally, a mule that eats your eggs. I’ve heard this one all my life, but only as the exclamation, “Well I’ll be a suck-egg mule!” It’s one of those substitution expletives someone uses when he starts to say “son of a bitch” and in the middle of the first syllable realizes he’s in mixed company. “] and I’m not sure if this is a Southern-ism but he always called the dog’s food/kibble “groceries”. We’ve taken to using it around here, too.

    • Oh I love that!! I’ve never heard that one before, but that works really well. I may have to adopt that one!

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