Southern slang is the pad from which hundreds of middling comedy careers were launched.
Chances are that now – right now – if you wandered into some random comedy club in America you could find some third-rung comedian with a Southern accent, or Larry the Cable Guy, doing their best five minutes about when Southerners say bless your heart, it’s an insult.
But in most clichés you can find a kernel of truth. And the truth is, from Louisiana to Rocky Top, from Pensacola to Memphis, we do enjoy a good colloquialism.
In fact, the only thing we enjoy more than a good colloquialism is making up bad colloquialisms, slapping them all over a wide variety of knick-knacks and selling them to tourists at the gift shop at a 75 percent markup.
We’ve gotten so good at it, that it’s harder now to know truth from fiction.
But which Southern phrases are authentic and which ones came about because we all grew up watching Foghorn Leghorn and the Dukes of Hazzard?
This here internet ain’t much help. Google Southern phrases and all manner of little sayings pop up. I call bull on many of them.
One site declared “it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans” is a Southern saying and then explained it entered the public lexicon when Humphrey Bogart said it at the end of Casablanca.
I’m sorry, but that don’t make no sense.
A New York-born actor in a movie set in World War II Morocco? That ain’t Southern.
So what are Southern sayings? Well, despite what the marketing geniuses at the Cracker Barrel and Jeff Foxworthy think, the South is not a single homogenous place. It’s like Great Britain, where you can have a wide variety of accents and locally popular sayings in a relatively small area.
Still, if you want to sound like an authentic Southerner here are some phrases that you might not find in Google translate.
Bumfuzzled means dazed, confused and bewildered. In one sense, to be bumfuzzled is to have wandered face-first into someone or something so incredibly incoherent or stupid, that it rubs a little off on you.
Like someone struck you a shovel full of dumb and then tried to get you to learn algorithms. Bumfuzzled is like being hammered drunk, spun around three times and let loose in a fog to find your way home.
2. -er than
We love a good simile. This is a true Southern phrase and it’s multi-purpose. And while “madder than a wet hen” may be the most well-known example of the genre, it is a versatile little construction.
Other popular versions include “dumber than a bag of hammers”, “drunker than Cooter Brown” and “hotter than Georgia asphalt” (blue blazes is also acceptable).
A good mild swear on the end is also a frequent go-to. I’m especially fond of the “-er than dammit”. It works for a lot of situations. You can be drunker than dammit, hotter than dammit or colder than dammit. Now, if you want to graduate to PhD level Southern, you start making your own.
But be careful, if you’re not quick on your feet, you can set yourself up for a spectacular crash and burn. Once, a relative was on the phone with someone and tried to tell them how hard it was raining. “It’s raining harder than …” he said, taking a pause deep enough that it drew painful attention to the fact he had nowhere to go, “… a cat shaking off fleas.”
Honestly, I’ve never looked at the man quite the same way again.
3. Y’all and reckon
We’re not breaking new ground here. Y’all and reckon are included on every greatest hits collection of Southern slang. They’re cliché. They’re common. But they’re quite useful.
Back when I was self-conscious about filling Southern stereotypes, I tried to avoid y’all and reckon like the plague. Now, they roll comfortably off my tongue. Reckon so, is a particular favorite. It’s so much more poetic than I guess so or a simple yes. And, with the right sauce, can be a devastatingly useful sarcasm delivery device.
You want to speak good Southern? Put “y’all” and “reckon” in your toolbox and use them.
4. Pitch a fit
This is a tantrum. If someone’s pitchin’ a fit, they are showing their ass good and proper. If they really kick it up a notch, they might be pitchin’ a hissy fit, but there’s some gender politics included in using hissy that you might not be comfortable with.
5. The Red Ass
If someone’s got the red ass, they’re madder than dammit. Not just angry. Not pissed off.
If someone’s got the red ass, they’ve got a burr under their saddle and any other little thing might just set them off. If somebody’s got the red ass, it’s best to just give them a wide berth.
6. Well I’ll be
This is an expression of shock or surprised. It’s a clipped and polite version of the fuller phrase, “Well, I’ll be damned.”
It’s frequently used when something you seriously doubted would happen comes to pass.
“Hey, did you hear Johnny graduated high school?”
“Well, I’ll be.”
What are YOUR favorite Southern phrases? Let us know in the comments!