Friday Faves: Southern Colloquialisms

Sometimes the darndest things take me back to my earliest years. Things like seeing a grasshopper.

Last week we went for a hike in a nature preserve area about 40 miles west of our house. A particular stretch of the trail was awash with grasshoppers. There were so many, we had to watch our step lest we crushed one as we walked. I snapped a picture of one before moving on:

After seeing the grasshoppers, I recalled an old saying of my late uncle. He’s certainlyย not the only person I’ve ever heard use it. It’s a fairly common expression in the south:

“I remember when you were just knee high to a grasshopper!”

This is one way of telling a teenager or young adult that you remember when they were just a toddler. As I thought about this, I was reminded of how many unique colloquial expressions we southerners use that are not often familiar to Americans who reside points north and west of us. So here’s your Southern idiom education edition of my Friday Faves.

Most of these I know well, but I went to Southern Living to have my memory jogged about some I may have forgotten or even never known. My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles all hail from the deep south, but I’ve spent my entire life in the melting pot that is the Sunshine State, so there are a few I haven’t heard:

  • He ain’t hit a lick at a snake in years. (Translation: He’s lazy.)  I know this one well. My Texas-born step mom is fond of this one.
  • I’ve got a Champagne appetite on a Kool-Aid budget. ( Translation: I want more than I can afford.)
  • Well, butter my backside and call me a biscuit! ( Translation: Well, I’ll be dang!) There are many renditions of this one.
  • People in hell want ice water, but that don’t mean they get it. (Translation: You don’t always get what you want.)
  • Whatever cranks your tractor. (Translation: Whatever makes you happy.)
  • He/she really cranks my engine (Translation: A romantic interpretation of the aforementioned expression)
  • That girl ain’t wrapped tight! (Translation: she has a few screws loose, elevator doesn’t go to the top floor, is slightly unhinged)
  • Well, the lights are on, but ain’t nobody home. (Translation: see above)

I could go on for quite a while with these, some of which range from slightly comical to outrageously inappropriate. But we Southerners? We know how to turn a phrase, no?



8 thoughts on “Friday Faves: Southern Colloquialisms

  1. Will S. says:

    Interesting; I know several of those, but had no idea they were originally southernisms. That just speaks to the cultural influence of America in general but the south in particular; reaches far and wide… ๐Ÿ™‚

    One that hasn’t travelled particularly but which I know about: I love the passive-aggressive-ness of the southern “Bless his / her / your heart!”, which sounds like someone is complimenting another party, but is in fact indicating that the speaker considers said party a fool. It’s as deceptive as our Canadian overuse of ‘sorry’ when not at all sorry, so I like it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ (We prefer to hide our contempt behind a veneer of politeness, so I think we Canucks have that in common with you southerners. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jack says:

    I lived in Tennessee for 7 years, and I loved the people and culture there.

    We could tell what part of Tennessee someone was from by how they used the plural “you”. Western TN = “you’s”. Central TN = “y’all”. Eastern TN (Appalachia) = “you’uns”. I came from a place up north where we always said “you guys”. But in the south, this term was only used condescendingly. So I was an arrogant Yankee for a time before I figured this out. ๐Ÿ™‚

    And every carbonated beverage is called “coke”!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Will S. says:

    You’se = Ulster Scots, my ancestors, and those of Western TN Appalachian hill country.

    My folk, no matter where in the world. Woo-hoo! ๐Ÿ™‚

    And to any who say that’s poor grammar, houl yer whisht. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Elspeth says:

    For some reason it surprise me to think of a Canuck with southern U.S. connections, but yes. One of my closest friends is a woman of Scottish Irish heritage who hails from Appalachia.


  5. Will S. says:

    @ Elspeth: Well, when the Irish Potato Famines hit (several crop failures between 1825 and 1875), the Scotch-Irish diaspora went everywhere – Canada, Australia, Appalachia…

    Southerners, like Canadians, have traditionally favoured Oxford spelling over Webster…

    And during the U.S. Civil War, Confederates found much sympathy in British North America; they sometimes met in what is now Toronto to plot and plan, and even launched a raid on St. Albans, Vermont from what is now Canadian territory. Lincoln was so mad at what he saw as tacit British support for the South that he wanted to annex Canada as revenge – but of course was assassinated before he could carry out his plans.

    The Cajuns of Louisiana came from what is now Canada.

    So, the history, cultural heritage and even some historical political ties between Canadians and Southerners run deep. ๐Ÿ™‚

    BTW, like Hearthie, we use ‘knee-high to a grasshopper’ up here, too; it was one of the phrases I mentioned I knew, but didn’t realize was of Southern provenance.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Bike Bubba says:

    Dunno how you’d track the origins of any of these phrases, but I know I enjoy them. Even the one my math teacher used to describe how worthless a person was….

    ….and one of my favorite compliments from my early wedded days; “you’re all over her like a cheap shirt.” Guilty. Still am.

    Liked by 1 person

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