If you weren't blessed by the grace of God to be from the South, you may often wonder what some of us southerners are saying when we use certain words, phrases, expressions, or colloquialisms. You might even wish to learn some of these for yourself so that you can practice and speak southern whenever you find yourself traveling to or within the South, or actually moving to and living within the South. Well, this little article will define and describe some of the key words and phrases that many southerners use in conversation. By incorporating some of these words and phrases, you'll be on your way to speaking southern like a southerner. But whatever you do, don't try to learn southern speech from what you hear on television or see in the movies!
Some Ground Rules for Speaking Southern
Many southerners, compared with some other parts of the U.S., tend to speak slightly slower. So don't be impatient for heaven's sake. Know that some words gain additional syllables, while others may lose a syllable or two. This is important to produce the famed southern drawl. Also remember that there are different types of southern accents depending upon the sub-region within the South. There isn't just one southern accent. And know that sometimes for words ending in "-ing", some southerners don't pronounce the "g" and the word sounds like it just ends with "-in'"; and some people add an "a" to the beginning of a word ending in "-ing" ("I'm a'goin' to the store."). Finally, some southerners also drop the final -r off of words, but this also depends on the area of the South.
Most important: Say "y'all" a lot! Use it all the time. "Y'all" means "you all" or "all of you". And for goodness' sake, never say "you guys".
Don't forget to say "please", "thank you", "yes sir" and "yes ma'am" at the appropriate times. Cultivate good manners.
Useful Southern Words
Use the following words in your everyday speech and conversations (southern words are on the left):
-howdy = hello, hey there. "Howdy, y'all".
-yonder = over there. "I'm goin' over yonder."
-fixin' = about to or going to. "I'm fixin' to get somethin' to eat."
-dinner = lunch, mid-day meal.
-supper = evening meal.
-dadgummit = darn! (dammit!). "I burned the fried green tomatahs, dadgummit!"
-doggone (doggonit) = darn! (same as dadgummit).
-nearabout = almost. "I nearabout burned the fried green tomatahs."
-heap = a large quantity. "He's in a heap of trouble."
-ornery = having an irritable disposition. "She's just plain ornery."
-tote = carry.
-piddlin' = small or inferior; or to waste time. "I've just been piddlin' around here waitin' for y'all to get here so we can go eat supper."
-reckon = to regard or to think of as. "I reckon we can go eat now."
-right = very, quite. "It's right near time to eat now." "I'm right tired."
-rile = to make angry or to agitate. "I got all riled up after I burnt those fried green tomatahs."
-skedaddle = to scatter, to run. "Y'all skedaddle on out of here."
-tarnation = used to indicate shock, surprise, or displeasure. "What in tarnation is goin' on around here?"
-uppity = snobby, conceited. "Those new neighbors are a little uppity."
-Yankee = someone from the north.
-snowbird = A Yankee who vacations in the mild climate of the South during the winter to get away from the ice, snow and cold up north.
-best = a word thrown into a negative statement. "You best not talk to strangers."
-haint = ghost.
-youngins or younguns = young people, youths. "All you youngins go play outside."
-aint = the sister of one of your parents (aunt).
-buggy = shopping cart.
-carry = to transport something or someone in a vehicle. "I carried her to the doctor."
-coke = soda, any brand of soft drink or carbonated beverage.
-mash = press. "Mash the elevator button."
-sorry = poor quality, lowlife. "He's just a sorry thing."
-ugly = rude or discourteous. "Don't be ugly to those uppity neighbors."
-folks = parents.
-onced, twiced, ... = once, twice, ...
Useful Southern Expressions and Phrases
Throw in some of these expressions as you converse with people (southern expressions are on the left):
-"slow as molasses" = really really slow.
-"old as Methuselah" = really really old.
-"hot as Hades" = really really hot.
-"bless his (her) heart" = "poor thing"; usually added before or after a gentle insult or when talking about someone else, but is also used when expressing genuine concern.
-"great day in the mornin'!" = shocked or surprised or suddenly irritated. "Great day in the mornin', that driver's as slow as molasses!"
-"good God (gosh) a'mighty!" = shocked or surprised or suddenly irritated. "Good God (gosh) a'mighty! Turn! (said to another driver)"
-"dead as a doornail" = dead for a while.
-"up an' died" = died suddenly. "He just up an' died yesterday!"
-"darn tootin'" = for sure or that's right.
-"gosh, darnit!" = expressing displeasure. "Gosh darnit those fried green tomatahs are a'burnin'!"
-"fit to be tied" = angry
-"a hankerin'" = yearning, craving. "I have a hankerin' for some fried green tomatahs."
-"hear tell" = was told. "I hear tell they're building a new mall up yonder."
-"lickety split" = really quick.
-"liked to" = almost. "I liked to burned the fried green tomatahs."
-"liable to" = probably. "If you don't pay attention to the stove, you're liable to burn those fried green tomatahs."
-"off kilter" = not right, out of whack. "The air conditioner is off kilter!"
-"sho 'nuff" = sure enough.
-"snug as a bug" = cozy, comfortable.
-"I'll be dog!" = used to indicate great surprise. "Well, I'll be dog! That cat just talked!"
-"come (came) up a storm" = used to indicate an unexpected storm.
-"a storm's a'brewin'" = it is about to storm.
-"done gone" = did. "He's done gone and got a job."
-"might could" and "useto could" = may be able to; was able to. "I might (usedto) could do that."
-"wide open" = full of energy, hyperactive. "That child is goin' wide open."
-"act up" = be rambunctious. "Great day in the mornin'! Those youngins are actin' up again, dadgummit." -"carry on" = act foolishly. "They've been carryin' on all day!"
-"I swanny" = express surprise. "Well I swanny, I didn't see that coming."
-"I declare" = express surprise. "Well, I declare!"
-"much abliged" = thank you.
-"spring chicken" = young thing. "He's no spring chicken."
-"hold your horses" = be patient.
-"barkin' up the wrong tree" = you're wrong.
-"ruffled feathers" = upset and pouting. "Those uppity neighbors got their feathers ruffled."
-"bump on a log" = lazy, not acting, sitting there. "That driver's like a bump on a log."
-"too big for one's britches" = someone thinks to highly of themselves. "He's too big for his britches."
-"mend fences" = settle differences.
-"two peas in a pod" = act and think alike. "They're like two peas in a pod."
-"don't count your chickens until they're hatched" = know the results before acting or speaking.
-"don't bite off more than you can chew" = attempt what you know you can accomplish.