Know The Code: a mini lesson in Southern United States language

October 5th, 2011 by Theresa

So we all know that I’m from New Orleans – a great southern city. As you may have guessed sometimes “I talk funny,” as they say up here in Canada. While telling a story to a group of people, I dropped a “Bless her heart” once or twice. This apparently cracked my friends up – and got me thinking. There was a pattern there, not just what I said but how I said it.

With a spark of an idea I turned to social media. I asked my Google streamers, Twitter followers and Facebook compatriots, what their favourite Southern sayings are. Boy was I in for a treat! I got some great responses from “Fixin ‘to,” “Well I’ll be,” “gag a maggot,” and of course the ever present terms “ya’ll” (singular) and “all ya’ll (plural). In the course of discussing these terms with my old New Orleans friends, I realized the pattern was there.

It’s true that when you go to the South in the U.S., you need a passport, phrasebook and a giant red maple leaf patch on your clothes. All ya’ll Canadians know what I’m talking ‘bout. Even with those tools at the ready, there’s a lot in spoken conversations you’re going to miss. I’m not just talking about the country hicks giving you directions. Here’s an example.

When I dropped the “bless her heart,” in the story to my friends, it only sort of meant what I said. The true meaning was something like “this chick is all kinds of wrong and this is the nicest thing I can say about her so I don’t come off as a complete and utter b_tch.” That’s a whole lot of subtext that few will get. The religiously pious will take it as an opportunity to utter “amen.” But yes, it’s a pass to be catty in a nice way.

There are the smaller phrases like “amen” used above. The direct definition is “so be it” or as an “affirmation in prayer.” How it’s actually used in my neck of the woods? Goes something like this “I agree with you so strongly that I will risk sending a prayer up to the God even though I am not going to a church and haven’t seen the inside of one in a so long I’ll have to be re-baptized.” See? That’s a lot you’re missing! Another like this one is “my hand to God!” when the truth one one’s words are in doubt.

Here’s another. “Well I’ll be.” Decidedly existential and rather philosophical, the phrase is on the same lines of “We’ll I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” and the contradictory phrases, “No way,” and “You don’t say.” The translation is something along the lines of “What you have uttered is so incredible that I have no idea what do say. So I’ll say something ridiculous and contradictory.” Other phrases long this line are “Shut up” after telling a rather shocking piece of news as well as “Get out!” And we all know what “Shut the front door” really means. No need for an explanation there.

So tell me. What phrases are your favorite? Need a real translation? Leave me a comment!

, , ,

Comments are closed.