Culture / Humor / November 6, 2014

Essential Southernisms Any Yankee In The South Should Know

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.

2) Yonder

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.

10) Usedacould

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.

11) Hain’t 

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.

12) Sir/Ma’am

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.



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Nov 06, 2014

You got that right!

Nov 06, 2014

I’d also add “up under.” “The cat is sitting’ up under the table.” A friend of mine from New England had never heard that before and wouldn’t let it go. Ever.

Nov 06, 2014

Just read these to my hubby, and he said, “It sounds like your cousin! … Did you send these to your mom?!” He’s from Colorado, and I’m born and raised in south GA. 🙂

Nov 07, 2014

One phrase that I am tried of explaining to carpet baggers. “Is that any count?” Which means does it have value. On a scale of one to ten if its a 9 it has count. Is that sandwich any count. “No its no count”

    Nov 07, 2014

    That’s just nonsense.

    Dec 02, 2014

    Haha, that’s right! It really makes sense, I’m tellin’ ya. No count is simply our southern way of saying, “of no account.” Like, “That no-count truck won’t run in the snow.”

    Btw, if said in slow-mo, usedacould sounds like “use-ta-could.” As in, “I used to be able to [speak American English fluently using complete articulation], but then I gave up and just fit in.” But then, you can also say, “I usetacouldn’t understand them rednecks, but I think they’ve astarted rubbin’ off someway or ‘nother.”

    Thanks for this hilarious post, God bless!

Nov 08, 2014

As a fellow Minnesotan who is transplanted to Tennessee, I share your awe at the southern phrases. You did miss one though- “might could”. For example, “I might could go to the grocery story today.”

    Nov 10, 2014


    “Might Could” is the obvious missing one. It very easily could have made the list.

Nov 09, 2014

I was born and raised in Nashville, TN. Love and use all of these phrases. My only exception would be to “Bless your Heart”. That can be a real and sincere phrase. Can it be “Catty”, yes but you have to “put it in its place” so to speak. If I were to find out a friend of mine’s husband, mom, dad, sister, brother, died. Saying “Bless your Heart”, is there anything I can do for you, would be sincere.

Nov 10, 2014

Why in the world are New Mexico and Oklahoma on this list? They are most certainly not the south…. No more so than West Virginia or Missouri.

Nov 14, 2014

[…] Essential Southernisms Any Yankee in the South Should Know – You can’t survive in the South without knowing at least these twelve Southernisms. […]

Nov 14, 2014

Love this post! As a proud North Carolinian, I tend to think creativity and color is what we southerners contribute to the English language. After ridding our country of all those extra u’s the English use, southern words are the only real innovation with the language in 400 years. Y’all should just say, “thank ya,” add a “sir” or “mam”, and begin to “talk right” like us.

By the way, Texas is not the south. It’s Texas. It’s it’s own thang. Any place that says strange stuff like “cattywampus” shouldn’t be blamed on us decent southern folk. Bless your heart.


Nov 18, 2014

As a 5th generation Virginian, I can appreciate a lot of these sayin’s. I have personally used most to all of them at some point in my life. I have never found them strange or out of place. I married in to a family from Pennsylvania and some of the saying’s from up there are just as bad, the worst has to be You’n instead of Y’all. I liked this post and found if very entertaining. Thank you.

Jun 14, 2015

I’m wondering why you have two blog posts making fun of the south? I find you incredibly offensive.

Apr 25, 2016

I certainly agree with Rebekah I usedtacould is actually usedtocould or used to could…used to be able. One I did not see here, perhaps because it isn’t a Southernism but a general ruralism. What about “would of,” or could of,” instead of would have or could have? Bless your heart, I am not sure it matters, language is always changing. But, bless my heart, I have never used “Bless your heart” in “that there” negative way.

Apr 25, 2016

Charles, Barnabas’s father is from South Carolina so I am sure he writes about us with familiarity and love!

Apr 25, 2017

So “hain’t” going to do that is correct.

BUT there is also “don’t go down that road a HAINT gonna get ya”

Haint = ghost

Apr 25, 2017

Love this….1.) because I’m from the south and have used all of these sayings at some point in my life. 2.) I would like to add “big ol” to the list. If you haven’t heard it, that is a shame. 😂 It is usually used when telling a story of something being caught or the largest house on the street. Thanks for the laughs. We all have quirks, might as well admit them and enjoy the conversation.

Apr 26, 2017

I would also add “ought could” and the ever confusing “I wouldn’t care to” as in “I wouldn’t care to help you plait your hair.” Plait=braid.

Also evening is any time after 12 p.m.

Apr 26, 2017

You’ve left out one of the absolute best Southernisms. I love it for its frivolity. Ready? “A wholenuther.” As in, “Well, that’s a wholenuther issue entirely.” It’s a beautiful rendering of “an entirely different,” or “that’s another thing entirely.” Used in a sentence, “I can’t stand the Georgia Bulldogs, but my hatred of Alabama is a wholenuther issue.”

Aug 06, 2017

For what it’s worth, there is no ACTUAL momma slappin’ going on, the WANNA is key. Why would someone wanna slap their momma when they taste something delicious? Well, momma is supposed to be the best cook around, and yet, here is this insanely good food that she didn’t make! How deep does this deception go? Anyhow, that’s why the phrase is only used when tasting food your momma didn’t make. If you are tasting great food momma made a more appropriate phrase would be that she “put her foot in it!” I’ll let you research that one yourself.

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