Southern Sayings

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve had opportunities to remember some old Southern sayings. These so delight me that I am given to sharing a few with you. Maybe you have heard them, too, and will enjoy some chuckles.

One word my grandmother said that I’ve never heard anyone else say, until I read it in a Kaye Gibbons’ novel: “Haywire-flooey.” This was the grandmother who had at one time been as beautiful as a Gibson Girl, and then raised four boys and at middle-age was spitting snuff out the back screen door. Since Gibbons and my grandmother both came from North Carolina, I wonder if the word didn’t come from there. It really is a perfectly descriptive word. Let me tell you, I’ve had some haywire-flooey moments in my life, a few I definitely regret.

My mother was good for sayings such as, “If you don’t vacuum up that room, you’ll be able to plant potatoes under the bed.” And, “To each his own,” meaning freedom that each of us have to live as we wish. For when she was going to go to the bathroom, she would say, “Please excuse me, I have to go see Miz Jones.” And, “God love your bones,” meant deep gratitude. I used that one with someone today.

My mother told me this story: She was having supper with her father, my grandfather, a dapper man, at one of the small town’s better restaurants. He looked up and saw a woman passing. He said flatly, “That woman needs to stay home.”

This was his way of saying he judged her extremely bad looking. I enjoy employing this saying (at least to myself) toward the so called experts, personalities, or celebrities being rude and ‘ugly’ on television.

And therein is another word often used in the South that others might not understand. “Don’t be ugly,” is an admonition that means mind your manners. It is the other side of the saying everyone knows,“Pretty is as pretty does,” and we all know what that means, and it needs to be said more often these days, if you know what I mean. Don’t be rude, don’t “get in a hissy,” and let your anger get out of hand. Don’t use foul language or yell or get in a fight or be rude in any way, because to do so is unacceptable or, “Now that is uncalled for.”

My mother-in-law (of the pantyhose episode) was probably the most colorful with her verbiage. I often heard her say, “You better look out or we are goin’ to fist city.” Or, “I’m gonna jerk a knot in your tail.” Either statement may be said should one act up and be ugly.

My dear mother-in-law also was known to say, “Well, don’t just stand there like dead lice are fallin’ off of you.” I asked her what this meant, and she confessed to not being quite sure, but that her mother had often used it.

“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” ~James A. Michener

There is, “gracious plenty,” which means more than enough, and “smack dab,” meaning right in the middle or on target, and “this country,” not meaning the U.S., but the county or even square mile area where the speaker lives.

The term for a glass of tea in the South used to be cold tea, but the more modern term is ‘ice’ tea. You might see it written on menus or in some places ‘iced’, but the correct way to say it is ‘ice’, without the d.

I love the warmth and vibrancy of these linguistic traits. Keeping them alive is one thing I enjoy about writing and setting my stories in the South, my “home country.”

It would make me as happy as a dog with two tails if some of you would share expressions and sayings that you know from your own lives.

Y’all come back, ya’ hear!

17 thoughts on “Southern Sayings

  1. Hello Curtiss Ann, One of the sayings I use is “love your face”, meaning that I am so happy to see that face. Haven’t a clue where it came from.
    On another note, I finally polled my Tuesday knitting group regarding the pantyhose debate. Every last women does wear panties with pantyhose. These are women from all parts of the country, so I don’t hink it is a regional thing, just sayin… 😉

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  2. My family harkens from Missouri which isn’t the deep south by any means, but I remember my grandmother and aunt saying, “Well, I’ll swan” often, usually when they heard something impressive, unbelievable or shocking. Also, they used to say, “You’re just growin’ like a weed” whenever we visited annually as children. My mother used to get “Peeoh-ed.” Which I finally figured out stood for “Pissed Off” though she never in a million years would have said “pissed.” I wonder if she knew that’s what it stood for? tee hee

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  3. My husband came packaged with a bevy of Southern family. As a Northern girl I learned my bold outspoken ways often ran up against the gentility of double meaning. I better understand “bless their heart” as doublespeak. What is said is just honey covering brine.

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    • “Honey covering the brine.”–What a great description, Cricketmuse! Now, I often do use “Bless your heart,” in a truly sympathetic fashion, but it is all in the tone. 🙂 I once had a friend explain to a work colleague from the North that being polite was essential. She said, “It isn’t that we down here won’t stab you in the back, but we are going to be polite about it.” LOL!

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  4. “Bless her/his heart”. You could say nearly anything rude about someone as long as you followed it with “Bless their heart”. She’s a man stealin’ floozy, bless her heart.

    Hit a lick at a snake. Something is better than nothing.

    Were you born in a barn? Frequently heard if you left doors open.

    Sent from Gwen’s iPhone

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    • Oh, thanks for the reminder of these! My mother-in-law used the “wouldn’t hit a lick”. And oh, Mama would get on to us about leaving doors open and say, “Were you born in a barn?” I use “bless her heart” all the time, and sometimes I mean it true. It is all in the tone. 😊

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  5. My mother always called a slightly eccentric person ‘crazy as a bed bug’. I’ve picked it up and now my daughters all say it too. It really makes me giggle and think of my mama who would be 96 this month when I hear it!

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  6. Had a boss once who, in the middle of negotiations, would say “What is this, Frank? A pissin’ contest between two skunks?” He never used bad terms ever, so I remember this as being so unusual for him. I guess he was especially frustrated. He was from Oklahoma so I always wondered if it was an Oklahoma expression since I never heard anyone else say it.
    Another one. I had a nurse from Louisiana once after I had surgery. We were talking about southern expressions and she said when she was growing up they were told if they bit off the head of a butterfly, they’d get a dress the color of the butterfly’s wings.
    I love southern expressions (even if the one above has an icky way of getting a new dress)!

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