SOUTHERN WORDS OF WIT & WISDOM and more..
Southern expressions – used mostly in the South in regular conversation – with not even an eye batted when spoken; and it’s only words!
I grew up hearing more Southern expressions – while never giving them a second thought until I moved up North. It was here that I quickly noticed that “Yankees” don’t talk like we do in the South. They notice right away whenever I spout off one of my Southern expressions, such as “I reckon” or “that’s a fine kettle of fish” and I definitely get their attention when I use a “ya’ll” or “fixin” in conversation.
One of my Southernism words that I still cannot pronounce correctly today is “pin” and “pen.” They both sound the same to me – I always know what I mean! After I say “pin” or “pen,” I usually point to what I want, or I end up with the opposite of what I’ve asked for. Another word I can’t correctly say in Yankee language is… “display.” I don’t think I have a problem getting my point across down South on these words, but up North it’s another story. (I can “thank” my husband for pointing this out to me!)
I guess every generation has their own sayings- as some of the ones my mother says or told me that my grandfather said – I’ve never heard of – and we all grew up in the South!
Some of my Grandfather’s favorites expressions of wit…
- “I walked through the front door and out the back.” He would say that about his schooling and how he only went for a short period of time. (He never went past 4th grade – mama says, but in census it’s written 7th grade. So who told the truth?)
- “You don’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out.” Meaning people never save anything, just live day-to-day. That would never have been my grandparents – as they saved “everything” and I think it also pertains to my frugal mama!
- “Open a window and I’ll walk right in.” If an opportunity comes along – take it.
- “A watched pot never boils.” My grandfather always said this to Grandmamma. It’s so true, if you stand there waiting for the pot to boil, it takes forever. Walk away and see how quickly it boils over. I find myself saying this all the time!
- “If you don’t have any common sense, you’re just a dam idiot!” Well I guess that one speaks for itself. Mama said her father often said that about people. He didn’t believe you had to be book smart – to be smart – and one thing he knew, was how to make money.
- “He likes to sleep so much that when he dies I’ll bury him standing up.” Granddaddy always said that about my father when he came to the farm; Daddy often laid on the bed and took a nap while there. I guess farm life was boring to him although he wanted to plow one time and after granddaddy turned the plow and horse over to him, I’m told it was a disaster. It seemed he plowed all over and not in rows; granddaddy never let him plow again!
A few of my mother’s famous sayings…
- “I feel like someone hit me with the ugly stick!” You are not liking yourself at the moment as to how you look, or what you’re wearing. When mama is dressing, and she’s not happy with what she has put on and looking for something else to wear, you often hear that.That brings to mind the story of mama and the bus; The bus driver often had to wait on her every morning as she was always late to catch the bus – why you ask? If her hair or clothes wasn’t looking right to her, well she wasn’t leaving the house until she was happy! When mama graduated, the bus driver told her, that was the best present he ever got!
- “I’ll slap you with a mud hole and walk you dry.” You can just imagine what that one means! And if you can’t – well I probably can’t either.
- “Take that Christmas tree down before New Years Day, or it brings bad luck in the New Year.” You never want to start a new year with your old tree still in your house – no one needs any more bad luck. Southerner’s are very adamant on having the old tree out before the new year starts! It doesn’t seem to be that much of a bad omen in the North – I see trees and lights way into February and longer. I can overlook the outside lights with the cold and snow, but by the time January rolls around – I’m tired of looking at Christmas displays and lights.
- “If you sweep your house out on New Years day, you’ll sweep family out the door.” Another old family tale – it seems you’re not suppose to do any work on New Years day! Makes you wonder who really made that up – maybe the woman of the house so she has a day off – or a good excuse to sleep in after partying the night before!
- “If a strange man comes to your door on New Years Day, it’s good luck, but if a woman comes, it’s considered bad luck.” Go figure this one out. If your a single guy, you might consider a strange woman coming to your house – good luck!
- “Don’t sweep the porch off after dark.” If you do, your sweeping a family member away. I don’t understand all this sweeping out in the South!!! But who wants to sweep the porch off after dark anyway??
- “You can’t wash on New Years Day.” – Mama does no washing on that day – if you do, you are washing a family member out of your house.” It seems Southerner’s are really superstitious about losing family members. Anyone have any input on these sweeping and washing away family member superstitions?
- “Eat your greens and peas on New Years Day for good luck.” Down South everyone eats turnip greens and black-eyed peas on New Years day. The Greens bring you “green bills” and the peas are to bring you “coins.” I do love both and probably ate more than my share while living in Georgia. I have never made turnip greens from scratch – although I have mama’s written directions, I find it easier to just go to Cracker Barrel and get my fix; they actually have very good greens.
- “If you hang a dead snake on a fence, it won’t stop raining.” I never heard that one until in a phone call she told me she had killed a snake in the garden and threw him over the fence – then in the next sentence she said she better go and take him off the fence or it’ll never stop raining. (With the drought they’re having this year (2008) I should remind her to kill a snake and hang him over to fence to see if it helps to bring some rain.)
- “Everyone loved to put their feet under my mother’s table.” Whenever Mama talks about her mother’s cooking, she always says that – it means that family and friends loved to come and stay for Sunday dinner, and especially eat her Southern biscuits! She remembers hardly any Sunday dinners if somebody didn’t just show up for dinner; I guess they all knew who would be cooking.
- “You could have fought the Civil War with them.” This is what Mama says about the first time she made biscuits; I guess you can figure out what that meant! For someone who started out making cannonballs, she ended up as one of the best biscuit maker!
- “Right is right and wrong is wrong.” Her words on that one pretty much speaks for itself! She often will refer to something that happened at the senior center when she felt someone was wrong – and she was right. I’ve learned to not battle with her as to who was really right! Believe me, I’d never win!!!
- “Want to see how the horse eats corn?” If anyone says that to you, the best answer is No! The reason being is the person asking will grab your kneecap, with their fingers on each side and squeeze really tight, and it feels like when you’ve hit your funny bone and makes you jump away. She learned that from her Uncle’s, Lewis and Rolph Askew, when she was small. She loved to ask my children that – I knew enough to move away from arms reach!
- “I’m as ill as a hornet and mean as a junkyard dog.” Means you better be leaving her alone if you hear that come out of her mouth.She learned this one from her best girlfriend Willie Mae. She still says it today and then remembers some story about her and Willie that she tells.
- “I don’t trust anybody and I walk particular around the dead.” It means pretty much what it says. This is one she says quite often and I’m sure heads turn when they hear it. I’d definitely walk particular around anyone that I heard say it!
- “God gave me a mouth, and I’m gonna use it.” When you hear that, you’ve probably asked too many questions and she’s told you things you didn’t want to hear – so back off. I’m sure the ladies at the senior center hears this one – especially when they’ve questioned her one time too many or ruffled her feathers!
- “Sprinkle salt around the house.” It will keep the evil spirits out and give you good luck. I’d probably keep a big supply if I thought this would work.
And a couple from my father… seems he wasn’t as colorful as my McKinley side
- “I took a Vanquish pill and vanished.” He often said this when asked where he had been; he meant it was none of your business. I don’t remember hearing it, but I guess mama asked more than I did!
- “Better tighten your belt.” Daddy told me this whenever I talked about money issues, and I often tell my children that today, reminding them that it was what my father told me.
Southern talk is “South Mouth” – A Southern-American dialect. It could also be called Y’allbonics from many of the words and phrases often heard only in the South.
My Southern remembered places and words…
We called the front steps “the stoop” – sliced bread was just called “white bread” – I never had Italian or specialty breads like today. Saltine crackers were called “soda crackers” – whole milk was referred to as “sweet milk” – because in the South many also drink buttermilk. My mother often ate buttermilk and cornbread in the evening for a snack; and today she still argues with me over which is the correct word, ‘milk’ or ‘sweet milk’– and she insists it’s sweet milk! When we went somewhere, we said “I’m fixing to go.” Today Mama calls the highways down there the “super-doopers” – and she hates to drive or even ride on them. If we drank a Coke, it was called “cola” – everything Coke, Pepsi, RC Cola was called just plain cola. Sausage gravy, made for the morning breakfast to serve over biscuits was called “sawmill gravy.” Having a barbecue in the South means eating a “barbecue sandwich” of chopped pork meat. A barbeque in the North means “having a barbecue” and cooking chicken or ribs on the grill. “Boiled peanuts” are nothing you’ll find in the North – they’re just green peanuts boiled in salted water for long hours until they are soft and salty; great to eat with cold beer. Many Northerners don’t like them, saying they’re soft and wet – but they’re suppose to be! Another peanut favorite of a Southerner is “pouring peanuts into a bottle of Coke” and eating them at the same time you drink. Electric stove tops are called “eyes” on the stove – a glass of tea in the South means “sweet tea” – Sweet tea is an icon of the deep South. Turning off a light when leaving the room is referred to as “cutting the light off” – A “tater hill” is a mound of dirt covering sweet potatoes – “mess of corn,” is what Granddaddy Bryan always said when he went to pick corn in the field – Granddaddy McKinley liked coffee so strong and black that Mama said, “it could walk by itself off the table” – and service stations, we called “filling station.”
More Southern expressions – you might not hear in the North, unless you know a Southerner!!!
Pitching a fit – fixing to go – madder than a wet hen – ya’ll come in and sit a spell – he’s three sheets to the wind – don’t ruffle her feathers – in a coon’s age – don’t count your chickens till they’re hatched – mind your beeswax – bit off more than you can chew – caught with your pants down – barking up the wrong tree – well shut my mouth – two peas in a pod – higher than a Georgia pine – I’m fixing to go – just down the road a piece – by hook or crook – won’t hit a lick at a snake – don’t have a hissy fit – will be there in a little bit – juke joints (bars) – running around like a chicken with his head cut off – if you aren’t skinny, then you’re referred to as having some meat on your bones – give it a lick and a promise – cut the lights off – women referred to as a “heifer” (cow) in a nice way – go cut me a switch – I’ve got the heebie-jeebies – arguing with a fence post – I declare – he won’t ‘mount to a hill of beans – If I take a notion – I reckon – fiddlesticks – don’t have a conniption fit – gimme some sugar – well bless your heart – pickn’ me a mess of corn – I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck – honeychile’ – it’s over yonder – tell your Mama I said hey – eenie, meenie, miney mo – Oly-Oly Oxen Free – filling station (gas station) – shore ‘nuff – I’ll slap you silly – and ‘mights’ grow on chickens!
And if you’ve made it all the way to the end, Well Bless your Heart!
Come back again honey chile and sit a spell….
© 2016 Jeanne Bryan Insalaco
I know exactly what you mean about Yankees not understanding us. Westerners don’t either. I recall a trip to Utah one year and we camped along the Snake River in Idaho. There was this fellow there who kept asking me questions, until someone told me he just wanted to hear me talk. Boy, that singed me. One thing he couldn’t understand was ‘yonder’. I told him if he paid attention to what I was saying he would understand, because when we say ‘yonder’ it is followed by what we are referring to.
You’ve done a good job of putting most of them, if not all of them, down, I can’t think of them, they just come out and I don’t think twice about them unless someone comments.
I’ve always been told if you sweep out on New Years day, you sweep your fortune out. Whatever you do on New Years Day is what you will be doing the whole year. And don’t forget that you have to cook your turnips and black-eyed peas with either hog jowls or fat back. Come to think of it, I don’t remember why, I just know you are suppose to and I always do.
It ain’t worth two cents in a dollar – meaning don’t waste your money on it.
Yes, we have our own special way of talking and our own traditions, or superstitions. We are who we are. Thanks for such a good write-up.
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I always look forward to reading your comments… I keep saying, you should blog also! I must have drove myself crazy trying to think of all those sayings!