When you're raised in the South, the mannerisms and preferences tend to leak into every aspect of your life.
You would never dare refer to any stranger as "ma'am" or "sir." You know that showing up empty-handed is a no-no. You grew up on family suppers and Sunday-night dinners with the whole family. As a kid, you always helped your mama at the grocery store so you could ride in the buggy without throwing a hissy fit.
If you're from North Carolina, you even have a preference in your barbecue based on which region of the state you grew up in (anyone that tries to argue that Lexington-style is better than Eastern is flat wrong).
No matter how deep into the humidity of the lands below the Mason-Dixon line home is for you, you undoubtedly know that there are a series of terms that you have heard from your childhood. If you're like me, you also may not have realized that many of these sayings are specific to your region until you reached adulthood and people began to look at you like you've got two heads.
If your friends from "up North" give you that "what it the sam heck are you talkin' about" look, direct them toward this special dictionary of sweet Southern' sayin's.
1. "Quit bein' ugly"
If anyone has ever said this to you, don't take it too personally.
Well, take it a little personally, not because you have been called unattractive but because they're telling you to stop misbehaving. In the South, "being ugly" refers to a person that is being impolite or just flat mean. Below the Mason-Dixon, "ugly" is a matter of both inner and outer qualities. While we like to tell ourselves we hold personality over looks, lumping them together makes that judgment highly questionable. Nevertheless, it's never a pleasing thing to deal with someone that's "ugly." Pretty is as pretty does, after all.
2. "You're 'bout to make me lose my religion"
Yet another stereotype of the South, thanks to the convenient location of the Bible Belt, is that we are all deeply religious.
When facing a person or situation that is frustrating or downright ridiculous, you may hear someone utter these words under their breath. Don't worry, they aren't threatening to summon Satan on you. They are simply expressing an increasing irritation and warning that they are all the more likely to lash out in a very un-Christianlike manner.
However benevolent this person may be, sin gets the best of everyone sometimes, so it is best to check yourself or run away as quickly as possible.
3. "I'm fixin' to throw a hissy fit"
While the concept of a hissy fit has, perhaps, expanded to other regions, it still retains its inherent southern twang.
A hissy fit can be defined as a tantrum and sometimes has a particularly female connotation (to which I call bull). However, there is a difference between your everyday, run-of-the-mill temper tantrum and a full-blown hissy fit.
While toddlers have tantrums, adults have hissy fits. Tantrums are kicking and screaming, tears running down the cheeks of an innocent child. Hissy fits are stomping, screaming, possibly breaking things... you get the gist.
4. "Aren't you just precious?"
Quite a few southerners use sarcasm to avoid stepping on toes, and this phrase is a great example.
The truth lies within the phrasing. If someone tells you that you are "just precious," they most likely mean that you are adorable or sweet. If they say "well aren't you just precious," they're probably saying you're being overly sensitive or needy. Think of it as a weird twist of southern hospitality. Instead of coldly saying "you're pathetic," we make it sound like a cool glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day to spare your precious feelings.
5. "If it had been a snake it woulda bit ya"
Have you ever been looking for something for so long that you began to think it was lost forever, only to have someone else find it within two minutes of asking for help? There's your snake and just be glad it didn't bite you.
While I can't say why this happens, I know that it happens quite a bit and this saying doesn't make it any less frustrating. In fact, it can make you feel downright stupid. At least you finally found what you were looking for before it had the chance to strike, right?
6. "I haven't seen you in a month of Sundays"
It's almost impossible to read this one without hearing the sugary sweet inflection, but it is a little confusing if you aren't accustomed to it. I mean, wouldn't it be easier to just say "I haven't seen you in so long?"
Sure, it would. But where's the fun in that? 'Round these parts we like to throw in an idiom wherever we can. It keeps your brain fresh to make life into a series of riddles.
7. "Don't let the door hit ya where the good Lord split ya"
Speaking of rhymes and riddles, try this one on for size!
With such a bouncy meter to it, this declaration is a great one to pull out when you want to tell someone to get out, but don't want to be too overt in your rudeness.
When someone tells you to avoid letting the door hit you, they're telling you to get out under the guise of caring about the door hitting you. "Where the good Lord split you" simply refers to, well, your butt. This phrase is literally telling you to avoid letting the door smack you on the butt on your way out of the door.
Isn't that so much nicer to hear (and to say) than just "get out?"
8. "Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit"
Food is a central factor in southern culture. You have your cornbread, hush puppies, fried chicken, shrimp and grits, banana pudding...
But in the region that will argue until the cows come home that macaroni and cheese is a vegetable, it's clear that carbs reign superior over all other food groups. With this in mind, it's obvious that the queen of the southern food hierarchy would take the form of fluffy, buttery biscuits. And of course the queen will demand her own saying and, like some of the best southern sayings, it's a little weird.
If someone says "well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit," they are surprised by something they have heard. Sometimes this can be a piece of gossip revealing an unforeseen couple in town, unexpected results in an election, a realization that a new daughter-in-law can cook almost as well as his mama. The list goes on and on.
But, for the love of God, put the butter knife down.
9. "They're like two peas in a pod"
If you haven't noticed by now, we southerners are quite fond of our similes.
Hearing that two people are "like peas in a pod" signifies the kind of relationship that everyone wants. These two people are inseparable, whether they are just really close friends or siblings. While this can mean trouble in younger kids, it can be a wonderful support system for grown adults. But good luck weaseling your way into the pod!
10. "Like water off a duck's back"
If you thought I was only joking about our love for similies in the South, you thought wrong.
Like most, this simile turns to animals to describe behavior. Think about a duck's feathers. They are soft and water-resistant so the duck does not stay wet for long. Hearing this phrase is a suggestion that you should let go of whatever ails you so it doesn't keep you soaked in anger or frustration for too long.
Now, if you haven't heard this one, I question whether or not you are truly in the South. Check your map and try again if this word is foreign to you. Down here, "y'all" is as likely to be a child's first word as "mama" or "dada."
12. "Madder than a wet hen"
Unlike ducks, chickens tend to stay wet and that does not make for a happy hen.
Being "madder than a wet hen" (or a wet-set hen) means that a person is upset beyond belief. Like an angry chicken, this person is likely to lash out and harm anything in its path without further consideration. Steer clear of wet chickens, folks. It's a dangerous world out there.
13. "Lord willin' and the creek don't rise"
Plans in most areas of the South depend on the weather. While it is hot and humid most of the year, there are the occasional days when the weather is cold or rainy (and on rare days, both). This may sound like something you have to consider in any part of the world, but the South can take it to a whole new level. Don't even try to say it's easy to go somewhere on a summer afternoon until you've experienced late-August humidity in North Carolina. Your hair and pits will fight you to your sticky doom.
Activities also revolve around the day of the week. On Sundays, a lot of places open later or are closed entirely in observation of the Lord's day. (I'm not just looking at Chick-fil-A here either, although I am always disappointed when I begin to crave a Cool Wrap after Sunday church).When you bring these two ideas together, a new idiom is born. When asking if someone is still planning on going somewhere or doing something, they may reply "Lord willing and the creek don't rise." This means that they still plan on it, but acknowledge that only two things can stand in their way: the Lord and the disasters of unpredictable southern weather.
14. "I love you a bushel and a peck"
Okay, so this one isn't strictly southern since it is a lyric from a popular play. Regardless, it's hard to deny that this phrase has a certain twang to it that just makes you think of your favorite southerner.
Telling someone you love them "a bushel and a peck" is extremely endearing. A"bushel" refers to a large amount and a "peck" is 1/4 of a bushel, meaning that you have a whole lot of love and then some for anyone that you love "a bushel and a peck."
Now, go tell somebody you love them! It's hard to avoid those affectionate feelings with an earworm like that wiggling around your brain.
15. "So good it'll make you slap ya mama"
Have you ever been on the way to a restaurant with a friend, both of you very excited about the amazing food you are about to eat? You know the situation I'm talking about. Your friend probably recommended the place and cannot stop talking about the beautiful decor, the cute waiters, and the fabulous service. Not to mention the food, which is "so good it'll make you slap your mama."
Before you start to worry that your friends think of you as an abusive child, hear me out: it's just an expression.
When someone is highly impressed with the food, they may use this phrase. Instead of indirectly threatening your mother, they are just stating that it is so tasty it will make you want to turn to your mom and yell at her for failing to prepare such amazing food herself. Violent? Yes. Unappreciative? Perhaps. Can you have seconds? Why don't you go ask your mama?
16. "Sweatin' like a sinner in church"
You have not truly experienced the South until you have sweated your butt off in the middle of October.
To all of my Northern friends: it stays above eighty degrees until at least Halloween almost every year. You may get a few sporadic days of relief but don't get too excited. The humidity may have disappeared but the Dixie heat isn't done yet.
With all that heat, complaining about how much you're sweating can get boring if you just say, "Man, I'm sweating a lot." Instead, we southerners have invented a new, more amusing way to vent about the heat. It keeps life fun and distracts you from the river running down your back.
17. "Bless your heart"
Have you ever met someone that's just a little too nice and makes you wonder how genuine they are? That one person that holds the door for you every day and tells you they "wouldn't want you to trouble yourself?" That person that makes you uncomfortable because you can't tell whether you've just met the nicest person alive or you're the most naive person alive?
If that person was a saying, it would be this one.
"Bless your heart" has a lot of power in the South. It can genuinely mean "I am praying for you to get through your present situation" or it can also mean "it's only by the grace of God that you are still alive because you're the biggest idiot I've ever met." Confusing, right?
The context of the conversation, the inflection of the person's voice, and the body language can help discern the speaker's intended meaning. However, if you can't decide after that extensive analysis, it's safe to accept the pity and defeat for what it is. We can't all be winners.