A Guide To Understanding The South’s Various Phrases

Published on 01/04/2021
ADVERTISEMENT

The South has many fascinating cultural aspects, as far as the United States goes, that you won’t find anywhere else. The love of soccer, homestyle cuisine, and quirky slang will make you think it’s an entirely different country! You may find yourself confused by all the local phrases used in Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi if you ever go there. But because you’ve come to the right place, there’s no need to worry! Just trust us… You will be fluent in their languages by the time you finish reading this article. We are not kidding when we say that this makes for a fun way to spice up your vocabulary.

Aren’t You Precious

Another thing that characterizes people from the South is hospitality! The reality is that locals like to be respectful and often use compliments to conceal insults. You might want to take it with a grain of salt when someone tells you, “Aren’t you precious?” They may be being sarcastic! When they feel offended, this phrase is often used. I’m sorry, but it’s not used in any other way often, so you should be careful.

Aren't You Precious

Aren’t You Precious

Reckon

We think it’s high time for you to find out what this word is. This is exactly what you are doing if you ever want to share your opinions and thoughts. It is quite common in the South to hear someone use this word instead of “think,” “suppose,” “imagine,” or “believe.” We’ve listed all the synonyms we can think of, so we’re sure you’ve figured it out by now! It’s a cool word.

Reckon

Reckon

Over Yonder

Over where? Nope, this is not a mistake in terms of grammar. You may hear someone say this if you ever find yourself in the south and need directions. Let us explain what Yonder means to you. Not everything is so difficult to figure out. This is just another way of saying, “Over there.” There’s a good chance they’d be pointing in the general direction of wherever you need to go!

Over Yonder

Over Yonder

See To Christmas

No, this individual isn’t a psychic who can see what Christmas is going to be like. This isn’t what the phrase refers to at all. The phrase is often used to speak of a woman wearing a skirt that can afford to be a bit longer. Maybe you’d like to think of a grandma scolding her cheeky granddaughter! She might tell the younger woman by saying she can “see to Christmas.” Next time, if you’d drop by her house, you might want to cover up some more!

See To Christmas

See To Christmas

Being Ugly

This does not always mean you are unattractive physically. If you are behaving unacceptably, Southerners will call you ugly. It seems that more than looks, they value what is inside! It is an interesting phrase, but if you ever start using it this way in any other part of the country, it might lead to a lot of confusion and frustration! Feel free to use it as long as you are prepared to clarify the usage.

Being Ugly

Being Ugly

Sweating More Than A Sinner In Church

There are moments when the sun shines a bit too brightly. Nobody wants to feel like they’re roasting in a volcano’s pit, right? When you need it the most, it is even worse when the air conditioner does not work. This is a phrase that you will hear when you are probably literally sweating more than a sinner in a church in the middle of the summer. It also demonstrates just how religious people in this part of the US are!

Sweating More Than A Sinner In Church

Sweating More Than A Sinner In Church

Pretty As A Peach

You know when you see a lovely lady that you can’t help but feel the need to throw her a compliment? Saying generic things is easy enough, but you can give it a southern flavor as well! Southerners will likely say that someone is pretty as a peach. Naturally, this is not to be taken literally. It’s just a nice way of saying a girl looks pretty! If anybody ever says this to you, there is no need to be alarmed.

Pretty As A Peach

Pretty As A Peach

Hissy Fit

Can this phrase be any more descriptive than that? Despite this, down south, it’s just more common. When a little kid throws a tantrum when they are told no, nobody likes it. After all, calming them down that can be hard to do. This is a good example of someone throwing a hissy fit. The handy phrase also applies not only to children! So that you know, grown-ups also tend to throw hissy fits of their own.

Hissy Fit

Hissy Fit

Fixin’ To

When someone tells you to do a certain thing you have already planned to do, it can be annoying. All the time, this happens to us. They came up with a great way to respond to it in the South: fixin ‘to. “Hey, what are you about to do?” someone asks. The response, “Well, I’m fixin’ to do the dishes, then go for a six-mile run.” This just means you’re going to do something to clear up any confusion.

Fixin' To

Fixin’ To

Too Big For Your Britches

In the south, using britches to refer to pants and undergarments is not odd for locals. But what does it mean when they say that your britches are too big for you? Don’t worry, they wouldn’t insinuate you for being overweight! Often, it simply means that you get ahead of yourself. They may think you’re viewing yourself too highly. This is widely heard when parents try to discipline their children!

Too Big For Your Britches

Too Big For Your Britches

Full As A Tick

When was the last time after a meal that you felt way too full? When we visit our folks for the weekend, this often happens to us. You may even have to pull our pants’ zipper down to accommodate it! You can say, “I’m full as a tick” when you’re in the south. If you’re lucky enough to be unfamiliar with ticks, after drinking a fair amount of blood, the balloon! It is not a nice image, but if the shoe fits.

Full As A Tick

Full As A Tick

Hold Your Horses

Not everyone owns a horse, but you do not need one to have the phrase! It’s just a common phrase that people throw around in the South all the time. They just want you to slow down a little if someone ever tells you this. We all know that staying patient at all times requires a lot of self-control. However, simmering down and taking it easy now and then can’t hurt!

Hold Your Horses

Hold Your Horses

If The Creek Don’t Rise

Maintaining a good social life when you have a lot on your plate is not easy. Sometimes, because of prior commitments, you might have to turn down invitations. In these situations, there is a good Southern phrase you can start using. A bunch of older gentlemen is shown in the picture. Let us say they meet at the same time on Tuesdays. Next Thursday, however, one of them wants to do something else. He may have made plans with his nephew, but they have yet to be verified. Maybe he’ll say something like, “Well, Jim, if the creek don’t rise, I’ll be there.” That means he’ll see, but he won’t make any promises!

If The Creek Don't Rise

If The Creek Don’t Rise

Yankee

If someone refers to you by this word, you are probably not from the South. If you are confused, this has nothing to do with baseball. This is merely a word used in the south to describe someone who is from the north. If not, maybe it’s someone who acts like that. Back in the Civil War, this term spread to the south. It was a word used to describe a Union soldier in those days.

Yankee

Yankee

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

This is more common on the list than the other entries. Even if you’re familiar with it, you might not know that it came from the south down here. The truth is that a lot of the time, we bark up the wrong tree. Unless someone tells us about it, we simply fail to recognize that this is the case. If they assume the wrong thing, someone is said to be barking up the wrong tree. Your parents might have said to you once, “If you think I’m going to give you $100, then you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

Cattywampus

We agree that it seems like a foolish word! However, once you start, you might be unable to stop yourself from saying it. It’s a lot of fun to say something out loud! If you assumed that it had anything to do with cats, you were wrong, though. This refers to something out of sorts, like that painting that tilts to the right in the living room. Your friend from the South might say that it’s a nice cattywampus! Just get it now?

Cattywampus

Cattywampus

Till The Cows Come Home

Again, if you want to use this term, you do not need to have a farm of your own. Do you have a friend who promises to be right back, even if it usually takes a very long time for them? We were all there. For a situation such as that, this is a nifty phrase! You’ll be waiting for the cows to come home when that happens. This means that the wait will not be short, so in the meantime, you might as well do a different thing.

Till The Cows Come Home

Till The Cows Come Home

No Bigger Than A Minnow In A Fishing Pond

As you already know, people in the South are fond of their euphemisms and their metaphors. This sentence is straight to the point, but maybe you are still confused. When you are telling a story, it is a fun way to describe a small thing. People from the south will drive home the point by saying that it’s no bigger than a minnow in a fishing pond! We all know the minnows are much smaller than the bass.

No Bigger Than A Minnow In A Fishing Pond

No Bigger Than A Minnow In A Fishing Pond

Three Sheets To The Wind

This phrase can be used by anybody who has ever been drunk in the past. In more ways than one, we tend to overestimate ourselves! You’ll probably say you’re all right when you’re on your way to getting drunk. Well, we bet that that’s not what your friends agree with. Trust us. If you do not want to make bad decisions, you should trust them! This is where the phrase at issue comes in. The phrase is nautical sounding because it is. A “sheet” is a rope that is unmoored, like a drunk person flailing about in the wind.\

Three Sheets To The Wind

Three Sheets To The Wind

Madder Than A Wet Hen

We have to admit that never before have we seen a wet hen. The term is, however, not meant to be taken literally. It means that you should not provoke her anymore if a woman is said to be “madder than a wet hen.” You never know, after all, what she will do when pushed to the limit! This is quite similar to the old saying that goes, “Hell has no fury like a woman scorned.”

Madder Than A Wet Hen

Madder Than A Wet Hen

A Mind To

Have you ever found yourself thinking about something, planning, reflecting, and contemplating? They have a term for that in the south. It’s not something you’ll usually hear in various parts of the United States. Over there, when you think of it, you have “a mind to” do something. Here is a neat example: “I have a mind to go over to Tom’s house to help him work on his car, but I’m not sure when.”

A Mind To

A Mind To

Piddle

Can you guess what it means to piddle? It means you are procrastinating or simply being lazy in the South! Therefore, if a person is one kind of “piddle” around, it implies they like to waste time. If you need a longer example, here it is: “Would you stop piddling around back there and get it done?” This is another good one: “Jane was going to come out tonight, but she piddled away all her money before Friday.”

Piddle

Piddle

Happy As A Pig In Mud

We are city people, so we don’t know if the pigs in the mud are happy. Come on, when was the last time you saw an actual pig? We bet that it was with no mud in sight at the County Fair. In case you are in the same boat, we want you to know that they are happy in the mud. “Jimmy is as happy as a pig in mud at college” means that he is having the time of his life now that he is in college.

Happy As A Pig In Mud

Happy As A Pig In Mud

Dog Won’t Hunt

You might not be a hunter, but you can probably figure out what this means if you think long and hard. If someone uses this phrase, it means the dog refuses to do his job! It does not allow its owner to look for birds, raccoons, and other small creatures. Therefore, “dog won’t hunt” means that something “won’t work.” This can be used as a way to describe something that won’t get you anywhere.

Dog Won't Hunt

Dog Won’t Hunt

If I Had My Druthers

Fun fact: this is a phrase from a Broadway musical from the 1950s that demonstrates life in the South: Li’l Abner. The musical makes the lifestyle of the people who live in the rural South fun. They say during these moments, “If I had my druthers…” Which means “If I had my way…” or something for that purpose! “If I had my druthers, this party would be over by nine, and I’d be in bed by 10,” would be an example of this.

If I Had My Druthers

If I Had My Druthers

All Get Out

It’s a lot of fun to say this so that you know. In describing something very extreme, “All get out” is used. This is a sentence that you can use throughout the day in various situations. Adopting the phrase might be a good idea. You can simply say, “I’m hungry as all get out.” when you’re starving. If you’re happy with the concert, you can also say, “That concert was as good as all get out.”

All Get Out

All Get Out

Gumption

The truth is that this word is used in various situations by many people from across the country. They generally do not know, however, that it has its origins in the South. It’s nice to hear that there is gumption in you. It means you’re brave and bold, after all! This is typically not used negatively, so when someone says something about you along those lines, you should not be defensive. It actually means that they admire you!

Gumption

Gumption

I Declare

Keep in mind that you need to use this at the beginning of a sentence if you want to add this to your vocabulary. In reality, no matter what you say, you can use it. You should, however, truly believe in whatever it is! “I do declare, it is hot today!” is just another way that you think that it is very hot. “I do declare, this is some good chicken you cooked,” meanwhile, means that you really like the dish.

I Declare

I Declare

Living In High Cotton

The fact that the cotton industry was important in the South is not exactly a secret. It has shaped the culture in certain ways in this part of the country. You will find many cotton fields down there, and it makes sense that there is more money when there is a higher production of cotton. That is why a person who is “living in the high cotton” is not worrying about their next meal. If you ever land a good job, you can tell all your friends you’re “living in high cotton now.”

Living In High Cotton

Living In High Cotton

Hush Your Mouth

Well, it’s not like it’s difficult to figure this one out. It is straight to the point! You can ask them to hush their mouths when your pal keeps speaking, even when they shouldn’t. In a lot of ways, you can say this! Others might say shut your lips instead or put a sock in it. This one has a more southern flavor, so if that sounds good to you, you can use it. In the South, when your parents talk, you hush your mouth.

Hush Your Mouth

Hush Your Mouth

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Southerners like to use animal metaphors more than anyone else, as you can see. What does “cat on a hot tin roof” even mean? Let us just say that there is a fascinating definition of this. A person on a hot tin roof who is like a cat behaves in a sketchy and anxious way. If you think about how a cat would behave on a hot tin roof, it could help! Are you getting it now?

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof

Stompin’ Grounds

We bet you didn’t have any idea what this meant! Allow us, if that were the case, to fix this error. Essentially, this just means a place you consider home. Once you leave for college or a job, you can use this sentence to describe your childhood hometown. Did you come from the South but live somewhere else now? If this is the case, you can always say that your old stomping ground is the “hood.”

Stompin' Grounds

Stompin’ Grounds

Can’t Make A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow’s Ear

To no one’s surprise, we have yet another animal reference on the list! You know, southerners don’t speak of a literal female pig. Instead, they are using it as an insult. If someone has ever called you this, they’re poking fun at your taste. Usually, this is used to talk about tacky clothing, so you should respond accordingly. We keep our fingers crossed, so you wouldn’t have to hear it aimed at you!

Can't Make A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow's Ear

Can’t Make A Silk Purse Out Of A Sow’s Ear

You Can’t Carry A Tune In A Bucket

It must suck a lot if you’ve ever been told something along these lines by someone. Let us explain exactly what it means when a tune in a bucket can’t be carried. It simply implies you’re not the best singer out there. All in all, it’s pretty simple, indeed. A bucket ought to be enough most of the time to help you sound better. It’s probably time for you to give it up and pass the microphone to someone else if this does not improve things.

You Can't Carry A Tune In A Bucket

You Can’t Carry A Tune In A Bucket

There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

Nobody tries different ways of skinning a cat! Again, in their lexicon, Southerners simply like to use animals. Functionality has something to do with this phrase. Once you hear it, keep in mind that it only implies different ways of doing something. For example, you might be tired of eating soggy cereals. If this is the case, you should add the milk before the cereal!

There's More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat

God Don’t Like Ugly

Can it get any further south than this? We doubt that! We talked about what it means to be ugly down south earlier in this article. “God don’t like ugly” is worse than that, though! This is a clear sign that no one likes it when you are acting in an unwanted way. If you do not want to hear this phrase, it is important to remain positive. That should never happen as long as you do not dwell on the negative side of life.

God Don't Like Ugly

God Don’t Like Ugly

Cuttin’ A Rug

For this one, you do not need to grab a knife or pair of scissors. The only thing you need is the music. Cuttin ‘a rug, after all, means dancing! Next weekend, you may want to ask your friends to cut a rug. We cannot wait to hit the dance clubs again as soon as the pandemic is over! If you see a couple moving to the beat impressively, you might think, “Wow, they’re cuttin’ a rug.”

Cuttin' A Rug

Cuttin’ A Rug

Whatever Floats Your Boat

There are times when other people will ask you for your opinion. What do you say when there’s no strong feeling about it in any way? Sure enough, if you feel like it, you can always just shrug. However, this southern line, which would have the same effect, can also be added: whatever floats your boat. This is just another way of telling someone that whatever they want, they are free to do.

Whatever Floats Your Boat

Whatever Floats Your Boat

Pot Calling The Kettle Black

This is not a phrase anybody would like to hear. If someone ever says this to you, they’re calling you a hypocrite. When you say that a pot calls the kettle black, you say that someone is accusing another person when they are also guilty. This isn’t the way, folks, to live. If you say it as a joke, it should be okay. You might, however, want to be careful before seriously throwing it around.

Pot Calling The Kettle Black

Pot Calling The Kettle Black

It Doesn’t Amount To A Hill of Beans

If you’ve watched Casablanca, you may have heard this phrase before. Humphrey Bogart says this to Ingrid Bergman in the classic movie as he bids her goodbye: “Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” This has something to do with the fact that you can grow beans very easily. Usually, when someone says this, they say that someone or something is of little significance.

It Doesn't Amount To A Hill Of Beans

It Doesn’t Amount To A Hill Of Beans

Bless Your Heart

The truth is that there are many meanings to “Bless your heart.” It depends on the usage. This can be a passive-aggressive way to say that somebody is wrong, for one thing. If it’s not that, it could be a way to show sympathy as well! You can also, on the other hand, use it as nothing more than an exclamation. To figure out what they mean by it, you should be on the lookout for the tone and delivery. Reese Witherspoon once talked about it and said, “How we feel about everybody… It’s what we say literally about everybody we know. And we mean it. We do.”

Bless Your Heart

Bless Your Heart

Heavens To Betsy

It’s a fun little phrase, but nobody knows how it turned out to be. A phrase used to show surprise at something that has just happened is “Heavens to Betsy.” It has something to do with Betsy Ross, a lot of people think, but this remains unverified. In the fifth volume of an American journal called Ballou’s Dollar Monthly Magazine, its first known usage was. This was posted back in January 1857, all the way back. There are also those who believe it was instead a euphemism for “Hell’s bells.”

Heavens To Betsy

Heavens To Betsy

I’m Finer Than Frog Hair Split Four Ways

Most of the time, people tell you that they are fine when you ask how they are doing. In the south, maybe you’ll hear them say, “I’m finer than frog hair split four ways.” This was supposed to be an ironic way of talking about how they were doing. It first appeared in the 1856 Diary of C. Davis. He said, “I have a better flow of spirits this morning, and feel as fine as frog’s hair, as Potso used to say.” We do not know who Potso is, but this is a fun way to brighten your answer to such a common question.

I'm Finer Than Frog Hair Split Four Ways

I’m Finer Than Frog Hair Split Four Ways

I’ve Got A Hankerin’

There are several meanings associated with “hankerin.’” Etymonline says that it is to “have a longing or craving for” or a “linger in expectation.” When someone in the South says they’re hankerin’ for something, it means they’re hungry for something. This goes back to the term “hankeren” in Flemish and the word “hunkeren” in Dutch. They both mean “to long for something.” This term might be an intensive form of “hangen,” which is Middle Dutch for “to hang.”

I've Got A Hankerin'

I’ve Got A Hankerin’

I Might Could

You might think that it sounds odd, but in the south, this double modal is used. It means that in the future, a person might be down to doing something. Let us pretend that someone asked you, “Are you going to work on the car later?” You can always respond by saying, “I might could.” Southern slang involves cutting down the number of words you need in the answer, as you might have figured out by now. This is just a shorter way to say, “I’m not sure, but I might decide to do it later.” to someone.

I Might Could

I Might Could

It’s Blowin’ Up A Storm

We’ve talked about metaphors a lot, but this one actually means what it means to look like. You use this phrase in the South to talk about the smell, look, and feel of a storm approaching. You may notice that the temperature has dropped, or you have suddenly felt a strong breeze. This also includes the rain scent, as well as the sight of lightning. We really wouldn’t mind other people using this phrase in the same way if you ask us!

It's Blowin' Up A Storm

It’s Blowin’ Up A Storm

Can’t Never Could

Here is another example of a double modal from the south! What does it mean when someone “can’t never could”? The truth is that this southern phrase has a simple reasoning behind it. If you believe that you can not do something, you will never achieve your objectives. You tend to derail your shot at achieving this goal when you focus on the negative aspects of the task at hand!

Can't Never Could

Can’t Never Could

Well, I S’Wanee

In the south, taking out unnecessary words is a pretty common practice. That is not the case this time around. For some reason, “I swear” morphed into “Well, I S’wanee.” According to southerners, it has something to do with the Southern Suwannee River or a small town called Sewanee, Tennessee. It is also possible that it is another way to say “I s’wan” or “I s’wan ye.” Both of those come from the northern English dialect and mean, “I shall warrant (you).” In our opinion, this is such an interesting way to swear something!

Well, I S'Wanee

Well, I S’Wanee

Worn Slap Out

Well, you probably already know that being worn out means being exhausted. However, it takes things even a step further to be “worn slap out.” It implies, in essence, that you are both mentally and physically tired. You will probably hear this a lot in the middle of the summer when temperatures go up to the triple digits. Heat strokes no one enjoys! Another fun southern slang you might want to add to your vocabulary is this.

Worn Slap Out

Worn Slap Out

Busier Than A Moth In A Mitten

Fair enough, like the other entries on the list, this one was not used as much. At any rate, every now and then, this is still a handy Southern phrase. A month of eating the material inside a wool mitten would probably be busy. This expression is not all that difficult to figure out. We all know that moths just love to chow on our favorite wooly dresses. When they have many things on their plate at the moment, a person is “busier than a moth in a mitten” That’s not so complicated, is it?

Busier Than A Moth In A Mitten

Busier Than A Moth In A Mitten

ADVERTISEMENT