18 Southern Sayings That Are Incomprehensible to Non-Southerners

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Unless you were born and bred in the South, you may not have heard of many of the phrases native to the area. If you have heard them, there’s every chance that you don’t understand them or have fallen foul of their double meaning. Fear not. The following list will provide you with a brief education in Southern talk, so you’ll know exactly where you stand next time you converse with a Southerner.  

Bless You

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It sounds so sweet and thoughtful on the surface, and it usually is when it’s used in other parts of the world. Southerners know that it carries different connotations and can often be used to say, ‘You’re an idiot.’ Charming. It’s regarded as a backhanded compliment when said in those charming Southern tones, so you’re better to just smile it away.  

All Hat No Cattle

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The phrase speaks for itself, but if you haven’t quite grasped it, it means that someone is all talk and unlikely to follow through. It could also mean that someone has a huge ego and thinks they’re further up the pecking order than others are inclined to believe. That’s the polite way of saying it. The Southerners would have a far more colorful explanation, no doubt.

Pitch a Fit

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If a Southerner is ready to blow a gasket, they’re about to ‘Pitch a fit.’ The phrase can be used to describe adult meltdowns and toddler screaming fits interchangeably. It’s not quite as mad as a wet hen, but it’s on the way to a conniption fit.

Piddle

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The British use this slang phrase to describe using the bathroom, but the Southerners apply it to someone who’s messing about and getting nowhere. If someone is wandering aimlessly or procrastinating, as Northerners might say, they’re ‘piddling.’ Be mindful if you’re using it in the UK. It could cause problems.

Tump

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This lovely word can be used interchangeably to describe something toppling or falling over. A speeding 4×4 can tump, but so can a glass of Coke. If there’s been a disagreement and someone has been ‘tumped,’ it’s fairly easy to read between the lines. In some cases, it can be a misspelling of Trump.

Madder Than a Wet Hen

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According to Southern folk, a wet hen is about as angry as it gets. While few people understand the real reasoning behind it and even less care, it means that they’re not best pleased about something. If the Southern fried chicken doesn’t live up to your expectations, there’s every chance that you’ll be ‘Madder than a wet hen.’

Catawampus

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This is a great, fun phrase used to describe something that isn’t quite going to plan. If the car’s making a strange noise, it’s ‘Catawampus,’ and the same could be said of the DIY job that’s causing more confusion than necessary. Use it freely when things start to go awry. It might lighten the mood.

Cattywampus

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It sounds like the above and that’s because it means the same thing. No one quite knows why there are two options for things that go amiss, but it’s every bit as fun as the last one. Feel free to flit between the two at your leisure.

Hankerin’

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This phrase is also used in the North, and various other parts of the world, but the Southern emphasis is in the denial of the last letter. If you’re ‘hankerin,’ you’re craving for something like sugar, a vacation, or a stiff drink. The word cannot be said with a G. That's not the Southern way.

Conniption Fit

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It might sound like a medical condition, but it’s a phrase that refers to a pre-empted outburst. If a Southerner anticipates that something is going to make them ‘Madder than a wet hen,’ they might announce that they’re going to have a ‘Conniption fit.’ It’s safer to walk away as the result is likely to be a ‘Tump.’

Over Yonder

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If you ask for directions and you’re told it's ‘Over Yonder,’ it’s anyone’s guess where it might be. You’d be foolish to expect a detailed route from a culture of laid-back cowboys, so you’ll need to do some further digging to establish the basics. They might be referring to something two miles away or on the other side of the world. Amen to GPS.

Hush Your Mouth

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Not to be mistaken with the Shakespeare term in its literal sense, ‘Be quiet,’ the Southerners use it as a statement of shock, surprise, or skepticism. It’s similar to ‘No way,’ but carries the adorable sweetness that only the Southerners can produce.  

Fit to be Tied

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If you’re facing an angry Southerner declaring that they’re ‘Fit to be tied,’ it’s worth taking a step back. They’re annoyed about something and probably at boiling point, so things could get ugly very quickly. Don’t tell them to calm down. It might annoy them.

Might Could

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You’re right in thinking that the joining of these two words makes no sense. To the rest of us, might and could are two of the same and can be used intermittently. Not the Southerners. They like to throw them together to confuse you. They’re all about the emphasis, and they want you to know they’re considering it, but in no way are they committing. Don’t hold your breath.

Coke

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While you might think this is self-explanatory, you’d probably be wrong. Coke doesn’t just refer to a glass or a bottle of Coke or Coca-Cola; it also refers to every other soft drink known to man. If you’re asked what sort of Coke you want, Lemonade would be a suitable answer. Be prepared, and don’t assume you need to choose between the limited flavors that the Coke brand offers.

Y’all

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If there’s one Southern phrase you know, it’s likely to be this one. ‘Y’all’ is the staple word used by every Texan, and it simply means ‘you all.’ It screams classic Southern laziness and has no limits to its use; it can refer to a group of 100 or two people. The options are endless.  

Fixin' To

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We have to love the laid-back attitude of the Southerners. This phrase pre-empts an intention, so it’s right at the back of the action plan. No Southerner will ever tell you they’re ‘about’ to do something. They’ll tell you they’re ‘Fixin' to’ do it.’ If they’re at this stage, you can expect to be waiting a while.

I Reckon

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If you hear a Southerner saying, ‘I reckon,’ there’s every chance that they’re thinking aloud and have nothing to add to the conversation, as you might expect. They’re chewing it over and making their minds up on the topic, so you’re best to just leave them to it. Try not to overthink it.

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