CHARLOTTE, N.C., October 4, 2017 – You don’t have to live in the South very long to realize there are certain phrases and idioms that you probably will not hear anywhere else in the country.
Recently, “Southern Living” magazine compiled a list of the most familiar typically Southern expressions in daily use. As a service to other regions, here is a guide of the most common phrases you will hear should you ever visit Dixie.
Bless your heart: Be careful with this one because it can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful. Most of the time the expression “bless your heart” is uttered with compassion. But in the South, it can also carry a bit of sarcasm that might go unnoticed by the untrained ear. Southerners are good at misdirection, but the good news is that it’s usually not malicious.
Fixin’ to: One thing you quickly learn in the South is that time is relative. The South is to the United States what Italy is to Europe. “Fixin’ to” is one of those phrases which could mean “in a minute or so” or “a week or two.”
When someone says “I was fixin’ to cut the grass,” just know that this could mean right away or it could happen any time within the next week or so.
Over yonder: Here’s a tip: If you want accurate directions on how to get somewhere, don’t ask a Southerner. “Over yonder” is usually somewhere in the distance, but in any direction. Southerners love to say “Just go over yonder til’ you come to a convenience store, take a right and go two barns down on the right where you will go under railroad bridge. Then drive 15 miles yonder way and you’ll see it on the left.”
Note that “Yonder way” can also be incorporated into the phrase, but it means roughly the same thing, except longer.
If I had my druthers: You probably have no idea what a “druther” is but it is actually a very good contraction for “I would rather.” In other words, “If I could do things my own way, I’d druther go to the fish camp for dinner.”
According to author Caroline Rogers, the term was popularized in the Broadway musical “L’il Abner,” in which Abner sings “If I had my druthers, I’d druther have my druthers than anything else I know.”
I reckon: This one of the South’s most versatile phrases because it has some many uses. It can mean “I guess,” I think,” “I suppose” or “I imagine,” and they all work.
In the popular folk song “Hang Down your Head Tom Dooley” the condemned prisoner laments:
Come this time tomorrow,
Reckon where I’ll be,
Down in some lonesome valley,
Hangin’ from a wide oak tree.
Find yourself a rocking chair on a back porch in the South and I reckon you folks could have a nice afternoon chat.
She’s as pretty as a peach: Hall of Fame baseball player Ty Cobb was known as “The Georgia Peach” for good reason. Peaches are abundant in both Georgia and South Carolina.
Thus when a Southern gentleman says a young woman is “pretty as a peach,” it’s about as powerful a compliment as he can give to a Southern belle.
As Caroline Rogers says “there’s nothing prettier than a warm summer day picking peaches in the sunshine.” If that is true, then a beautiful Southern woman can be nothing short of a “peach.”
Full as a tick: Anyone who has ever “pigged out” on a Southern soul food lunch of barbeque ribs, cornbread, collard greens and pecan pie knows all to well what it means to be “full as a tick.” Wash it all down with a glass of sweetened ice tea and when you are finished there will be no doubt about the origin of the phrase.
If the creek don’t rise: There is actually more to this expression which goes, “If the good Lord’s willin’ and the creek don’t rise.” It has to do with making a promise to someone that you will be there at an appointed time providing nothing unusual happens in between.
Worn slap out: Actually a true Southerner would more likely say “Wore slap out” since tenses have little or no use in the region.
Basically, this idiom is used to express how tired someone is after a hard day’s work. There are degrees of exhaustion however which is usually determined by the extroverted nature of the person saying it. Therefore, the range can run from simply being “tired” to total “exhaustion.” The most important thing to know is the expressiveness of the person making the comment.
Well, I S’wanee: Also shortened to “Well, I S’wan” on some occasions. Other parts of the country say “Well, I swear,” but in the South we have the Suwannee River, so why not give it some recognition. Of course there is also a college town in Tennessee named Suwannee so there is no reason to “swear” when “I s’wan” will do.
Space doesn’t allow for numerous other Southernisms so we’ll just give honorable mentions to “Hush your mouth” or, better yet, “Hush my mouth” and “Well, I declare” also known as “I do declare!”
And so as Porky Pig would say when visiting the South, “Th-th-th-that’s ya’ll, Folks!”
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.