Home Learn How to talk like a Southerner

How to talk like a Southerner

How to talk like a Southerner

Hey! I haven’t seen you in a month of Sundays! How have you been?”
Lord, child, if I told you how I’ve been you’d smack the undertaker for sending me back.”
Sounds like you haven’t been sure whether you should scratch your watch or wind your butt. Some things never change.”
“I tell you what, the only things that change are the ways to get in trouble.”

  • How a Southerner greets a friend
  • How a Southerner greets a stranger

Start Here

Southern houses have porches for a reason. Porches are welcoming without being overly familiar. Everyone is welcome to visit on the porch. Southern conversations have porches too.

This is a conversation between entertainers which is the Southern approach to just about everything. Being nice with a flair, being warm with charm: those are the main rules for talking Southern.

“Don’t be ugly” has nothing to do with looks – it’s about bad manners. “You won’t do.” or “You’re a mess!” are both affectionate compliments. (A “mess” is a large amount of something – as in – I cooked a mess of beans.)

A fur piece is a long long way to go – usually, it’s wa-ay over yonder.

These are a few examples of how language not only changes color, it changes shape. The most important thing to remember when speaking Southern is to give the listener the benefit of the doubt that he is worthy of your time. Invite him up on your verbal porch and offer him a long cool drink on a summer day. Maybe he hasn’t heard a kind word in a while, and yours will be refreshing.

That’s the gift of being Southern, the benefit of the doubt given to strangers, you’re worth my time.

A Note About “Bless Your Heart”

In the course of human events, as someone once so eloquently said, we are sometimes misunderstood. Widely divided by our own language. It’s always worse to be angry at your own family. No one knows it better than a Southerner. Nevertheless, ambiguity is our tool. We don’t really seek to offend, but sometimes we want to carry the point, even if it is only to ourselves. Therefore “Bless your heart” has become a controversial phrase.

People frequently see it as a sarcastic and insincere comment; however, Southerners aren’t sarcastic and they endeavor to never indulge in insincerity. The ambiguity of the phrase “Bless your heart” is the genius of it.

Bless your heart, honey. I’m so glad you found us and want to learn something about us. We sure do appreciate the opportunity to explain.

That’s a congratulations “bless-your-heart.”

I heard you have a new baby! Bless your heart!

Pretty clearly a congratulations – and it’s offered as sincerely as sincerity can be. But that is not its only use. “Bless your heart” can also express condolences.

“I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well today. Bless your heart.”

It genuinely is a blessing for better health, it isn’t an insult nor is it sarcasm making light of someone’s difficulty. Bless your heart is a blessing and a comfort in times of trouble.

But then there is the third meaning, and therein lies the trouble. It seems all sorts of people like the Bless-Your-Heart-You-Poor-Stupid-Fool version. But here’s the lesson hiding in the corner: if someone takes an exception to your ‘blessing’, they also must acknowledge some blame. “Bless your heart” is not an insult unless the receiver is willing to accept responsibility for seeing it that way.

And that is the real reason Southerners work hard to keep it in our vernacular. It’s the gentlest way to indicate a crossed boundary. The listener is left with pride intact and wondering, maybe a little if it wasn’t just a sweet parting.

It’s the ambiguity.

You didn’t see the announcement that the sale was over last week, bless your heart.

You lost your car keys, your wallet, and your phone? Bless your heart.

You got that promotion you’ve worked so hard for! Bless your heart!

Thank you honey for the flowers. Bless your heart for remembering my birthday.

I didn’t know your mama’s dog died. Bless her heart. It’s just like losing a member the family.

I can’t believe you thought our party was tonight. It’s next week. Bless your heart.

Bless your heart is a caring if carefully administered essential part of the Southern language toolkit.

A Big Freaking List of Southern Expressions

Like herding cats.
This ain’t my first rodeo.
Common sense isn’t a flower that grows in everyone’s garden.
Preaching to the choir.
Knee-high to a grasshopper. (means short)
That doesn’t amount a hill of beans.
As fat as a tick on a hound dog.
I’m busier than a one-legged man in a butt kickin contest.
She ain’t got the sense God gave a billy goat.
It’s been a month of Sundays since I’ve been. (means a lot time)
Madder than a wet hen.
There it is! Oh if it had been a snake it would’ve bit me.
If your brains were leather, you couldn’t saddle a junebug. 
Don’t let the screen door hit ya where the good lord split ya.
Well butter my butt and call me a biscuit.
His corn bread ain’t done in the middle.
We need to have a “come to Jesus” meeting. 
God don’t like ugly.
As nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
She’s pitching a hissy fit with a tail on it.
I’ve been all over God’s green country.
That dress was so tight we could see her religion.
That dress makes her like three pigs wrestling in a blanket.
The porch light’s on but nobody’s home.
I was born at night, but not last night!
I’m going to smack you six ways from Sunday.
I’ll knock you into the middle of next week.
Hotter than blue blazes.
She’ll argue until the cows come home.
Oh that painting is all cattywampus. (crooked)
That’s the pot calling the kettle black.
Sorry, that dog won’t hunt. (I don’t buy that argument)
I’m worn slap out.
I’m dog tired.
Getting a little too big for your britches.
Happier than a pig in mud.
Happier than a bunny in a briar bush.
As welcome as a wet dog.
What in the Sam Hill?
I was rode hard and put away wet.
You can’t make a silk purse out of sow’s ear.
Hold your horses.
Poor as a church mouse.
He’s as crooked as a dog’s hind leg.
He’s a snake in the grass.
I’ve been running around here like a chicken with its head cut off.
She’s so stuck up, she’d drown in a rainstorm.
It’s so dry the trees are bribing the dogs.
Handier than pockets on a shirt.
Darker than midnight in a blackboard factory.
Don’y buy a pig in a poke.
Going to your thumb to get to your elbow.
Six of one, half a dozen of another.
Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s rainin!
If he had an idea, it would die of loneliness.
You’re cruisin’ for a bruisin’.
She was so mad I thought she would tan my hide.
So ugly it made a freight train take a dirt road.
If I had a dog as ugly as him, I’d shave its but and tell it to walk backwards.
If you stood sideways and stuck out your tongue, you’d look like a zipper. (Skinny)
Colder than a coal miner’s butt in January.

Further Reading


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here