When my family and I moved to Tennessee just over a year ago from Illinois it was a culture shock. My wife grew up in the Chicago suburbs and I grew up in Minnesota before moving to Illinois in 2001. Both of us could only really be called “yankees.” Thankfully during my growing up years I did get to spend a fair amount of time in the South visiting family, so I picked up some of the cultural particulars and linguistic quirks. This helped me transition and translate. However, for those yankees who visit the South or actually move here there are certain terms you must be acquainted with if you want to survive a conversation. Here the 12 most important.
1) Bless Your Heart
I bid you good luck with this one. It can be used to build up or tear down, to express sympathy or disdain. It is syrupy sweet, but the syrup is laced with arsenic. If a Southerner ever says this to you just remember: your heart is not, in fact, blessed. Quite the opposite, in fact.
An indeterminate distance in a vague direction, but vague as it may be it is one of the key measurements in any set of directions. “Just drive on by the old John Deere dealership down yonder then hang a left. . .”
3) Slap your grandma (or mama)
Isn’t this what’s getting NFL players in trouble? Well yes and no. In this case it is one of the highest forms of praise for something delicious. “That peach cobbler is so good it’ll make you wanna slap your grandma.” At a deeper level this is a slightly frightening look into the mind of your average southern male.
4) Fixin to
Akin to “planning to,” “going to,” or “about to,” there isn’t really an explanation of nuance or a defense of its value. But you better know what it means.
5) Y’all; all y’all
The plural second person pronoun, and a vast improvement on “you guys.” (Especially for you liberally minded yankees who want to gender neutralize everything, why not get rid of all the “guys” and just go with y’all?) All y’all means the entire collection of people being addressed as opposed to a select subset.
6) Cuttin up
Making jokes leading to uproarious laughter, acting the fool, having a humorously good time. It’s like “screwing around” without the potential innuendos and with more jokes.
7) I reckon
A remarkably versatile phrase implying a certain amount of contemplation, belief, mental process, acuity, and possibly agreement. When an old southern man says it it makes Aristotle sound trite and Plato seem vapid.
8) Sugar, hon/honey, darlin
Ladies, when you sit down with your significant other at a southern restaurant and the waitress, young or old, calls him one of these names do not worry! She is not hitting on him. (Please, you’re yankees after all.) She is following the time-honored tradition of southern service providers. It actually means nothing at all but leaves the recipient feeling warm fuzzies.
9) Need me some, get me some, etc.
This one is just weird, needless, and mildly narcissistic. Instead of saying “I’m going to get a coke” a certain brand of southerner will say “I’m going to get me a coke.” Maybe it’s just to make sure nobody misunderstands who the coke is for.
A brilliantly abbreviated version of “once I would have been able to do that.” Rather “I usedacould do that.” Also works in the third person and plural. This is where laziness pays off big time.
It’s ain’t with an emphatic drawl, especially useful in denying any participation in shenanigans or sculduggery. “I hain’t seen nothin!” Listen for it next time you watch COPS.
Now, every yankee knows these terms. They are appropriate for police officers, politicians, and other people in official authority capacities. In the South, however, they are the proper address for all humans who are older than you are. Period. No exceptions. At the risk of getting your face smacked or your heart blessed.