The Weird Things Southerners Say and What They Mean
Pushing your buggy around Winn-Dixie, making homemade biscuits, and chilling out on the river are all classic Southern activities, but they mean nothing without local lingo.
If you’re not from a Southern U.S. state, chances are you’re not completely in tune with their regional slang. We’ve collected the best phrases from the South, so buckle up and get ready to learn, y’all!
“Grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ a sweet tater”
Is it possible to be happier than a possum eatin’ a sweet tater? In the South, not likely. This is a funny expression used to convey sheer delight and happiness. After all, what’s better than a sweet tater?
“Butter my butt and call me a biscuit!”
Nearly everyone in the South enjoys a good homemade biscuit with butter, so it’s no surprise this food has its own expression. If someone’s shocked, excited, or surprised, they might shout this phrase. It’s definitely more convincing than simply saying, “I’m excited!”
“My eyeballs are floating.”
If someone says their eyeballs are floating, it means they really need to use the restroom, not that their eyes are actually floating. As strange as the phrase sounds, it’s a classic down in the Southern states. And after all, how weird would it be if your eyes actually did float?
“Having a conniption”
“Having a conniption” is one of the most common phrases around, even in the South. Kids aren’t the only people who can have conniptions; adults can, too. A conniption is another word for tantrum, and it’s usually used to describe someone who is way in over their head with anger or frustration.
“I’m fixin’ to…”
Among the most favorites of classic Southern phrases is “I’m fixin’ to do this.” If you’re fixin’ to do something, that means you want to do it. Fixin’ is another word for want, plain and simple. It’s common verbiage across many Southern states in the U.S., so plan on hearing it if you visit one.
“Tore slap up”
If something’s broken or messed up in the South, then it’s also “tore slap up.” Although we’re not entirely sure how this phrase came to be, it’s pretty clever. The phrase itself even sounds pretty broken!
“Bless your heart.”
Coming from a true Southerner, “Bless your heart” is not a compliment, contrary to how it sounds. Rather, it’s a nod of sarcasm, typically said right before a silly insult. In rare cases, though, it can mean genuine sympathy towards a person who is going through a tough time.
Dear, honey and sweetheart are all fairly common terms of endearment across the U.S., but in southern states, there is a reserved name: June Bug. June Bug is a nickname reserved for cute, beautiful women. It is a classic Southern term of endearment, so if someone calls you June Bug, take it as a compliment!
“You look rode hard and put away wet.”
If someone says you look “rode hard and put away wet,” it’s definitely not a compliment. This phrase originated from horse riders when they were done riding their horses, they put them away while they were ungroomed and worn out. So, this phrase usually means the receiver looks either tired, exhausted, roughed up, or all three.
“Knee-high to a grasshopper”
Most Southern slang doesn’t make a lot of sense, unless you really look into what the words are trying to say. With this phrase, humor is at the root. Grasshoppers are pretty small, so it makes sense that this expression is used to describe a tiny, short child.
“You ain’t got the sense God gave a billy goat.”
Poor billy goats. They don’t get much praise, especially with this common phrase. This is a true Southern expression, and it’s used to described someone who isn’t so bright. Apparently, billy goats aren’t so smart?
“Madder than a wet hen”
If someone is madder than a wet hen, then they’re probably pretty darn mad. Think about it, a hen is not happen if they get wet, and they typically try to shake their feathers to get the water off. Wouldn’t you be pretty mad if you were a wet hen? Most likely.
A Yankee is someone from the northern states, and it’s not typically a favorable nickname. If someone willingly calls you a Yankee, they are probably picking up on some of your Northeastern habits or your accent. Although “Yankee” isn’t historically a flattering nickname, some people choose to embrace it.
“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
Some might claim this phrase originated in Scotland, but today, many Americans in the South have adopted this expression to describe something of little value that can’t be changed. Think about it: silk is expensive and often hard to come by, and you can’t make it out just anything.
“Heavens to Betsy”
Heavens to Betsy isn’t necessarily referring to a specific person, but it does amount to a level of surprise. Southerners usually shout this phrase after hearing shocking news or if they want to express excitement. With a hint of humor, this phrase is guaranteed to convey surprise.
“Hush up” is the Southern way to say “Shut up” or “Be quiet.” If you’re being too noisy or a bother to someone, they might tell you to “hush up” to get you to quiet down.
Y’all vs. All y’all
“Y’all” is perhaps the most popularized Southern term around, and it usually refers to a minimum of two people. “All y’all,” however, is usually said to a group of more than two people. “Are all y’all coming to the party Saturday?” is one way this classic Southern greeting can be used.
“Fly off the handle”
Flying off the handle is most certainly not used literally; it means to overreact or to freak out. For instance, if you’ve just lost an intense game to your best friend, you might fly off the handle if you’re known to have a short temper. Or, if you’re mad about something, your mood might fly off the handle, too.
“Hold your horses!”
If someone tells you to hold your horses, they’re likely trying to get you to slow down. It makes sense, considering you have to literally pull on a horse’s reins to get them to slow down.
“I’ll have a Coke.”
In the South, Coke means something more than the brand Coca-Cola. Coke is interchangeable with any type of soda, so if you’re in the South and you hear “I’ll have a Coke,” the waiter or waitress is likely to follow up with, “What kind?” instead of “I’ll bring you a Coca-Cola.”
“We’re livin’ in high cotton!”
Cotton, a historically common crop in Southern United States, is often used in Southern slang. And, if you’re living in high cotton, it typically means you’ve got a lot of money and family wealth. Think about it: high cotton means lots of cotton. In other words, it can refer to lots of money, too.
If you’re “swappin’ spit and hittin’ the road,” then that means you’re getting ready to leave. No, Southerners don’t mean they literally want to exchange spit before they head home, just like they wouldn’t literally hit the road; it’s just a fun way to say goodbye in the South.
“Can’t never could”
Two negatives usually mean a positive. And although this phrase isn’t proper English, it makes sense if you live in a southern U.S. state. If you can’t never could, it means you will never be able to do something if you don’t take a stab at it.
“I might could.”
Just like “can’t never could,” “might could” might sound pretty weird to most people. If someone in the South says they “might could,” they mean maybe. There’s no commitment with a “might could” in the South, but there is definitely improper grammar!
“It doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.”
If something does not equate to a “hill of beans,” then it’s likely not worth the time or money. This Southern phrase comes from the common notion that beans are easy and cheap to grow, and therefore, anything amounting to an entire hill of them truly doesn’t amount to much at all.
“It’s time to swap spit and hit the road.”
If you're "swappin' spit and hittin' the road," then that means you're getting ready to leave. No, Southerners don't mean they literally want to exchange spit before they head home, just like they wouldn't literally hit the road; it's just a fun way to say goodbye in the South.
“He thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow.”
If someone “thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow” then they’re likely far too sure of themselves. In other words, this is a phrase to describe someone who has an inflated ego and a seriously high self image or someone who really needs to be put in their place.
“I plumb forgot.”
Anytime someone uses the word “plumb” in an expression, including “I plumb forgot,” it means absolutely, entirely, or something of that sort. The word “plumb” is used to exaggerate an ordinary expression. If you plumb forgot, there was likely no chance of you remembering in the first place.
“She could start an argument in an empty house.”
An empty house doesn’t usually have many talking points, considering it’s likely to have next to nothing in it. So, someone who can start an argument in an empty house is probably capable of fighting about almost anything.
“There’s not a pot too crooked that a lid won’t fit.”
This is a great phrase to say to someone who just had a breakup, especially if they are feeling like they will never find another partner. It simply means that there is someone special for everyone, no matter what.
“It’s like herding cats.”
Think about it: how difficult would it be to herd up a bunch of cats? Pretty difficult, right, especially because cats often like to run around and chase things. So, if someone says something is like herding cats, it means whatever they’re talking about is extremely challenging.
Doohickey is just another name for tiny knickknacks that otherwise don’t have proper names. If you’re struggling to remember the name for something, the word “doohickey” should do the trick. Alternatively, a doohickey is something you’d call an object that you can’t remember the name for.
“You need it like you need a hole in the head”
A hole in the head is crazy talk. Not only is it horrible and unheard of, but it’s also unnecessary. So, if someone tells you you need something like you need a hole in your head, it means you don’t actually need it.
“Sweatin’ like a sinner in church”
This phrase is fairly self-explanatory. If you’re sweatin’ like a sinner in church, then you’re likely guilty of something, and chances are, you know it. Who wouldn’t feel guilty going to church if they knew they had done something terribly wrong? It has nothing to do with hot weather.
In the South, piddlin’ around refers to wasting time and procrastinating. Just like the phrase sounds, you can’t really accomplish much if you are just piddlin’ around. So, definitely don’t go piddlin’ around if you’re on a tight deadline for work or school!
“Having a dying duck fit”
As it turns out, ducks fight, just as humans do. And it can get pretty ugly if the ducks are exceedingly mad. So if your friend is having a dying duck fit, they’re likely in the middle of an argument or an extremely frustrating conversation that they can’t get out of easily.
“Take your sweet time.”
Taking your sweet time is not a serious, empathetic suggestion. In fact, it’s more of a sarcastic instruction someone from the South might give you. People usually say it when someone is taking too long to do something. So, instead of taking your sweet time, try hurrying up instead.
“What in tarnation”
The word “tarnation” actually stems from “damnation,” and the phrase “What in tarnation?” is a different way of saying “What in the heck?” It’s not as common of a phrase as it once was, but you’re likely to hear someone say it in a sourthern state.
“If the creek don’t rise”
The expression “if the creek don’t rise” is used in hypothetical situations. If someone, for instance, says they’ll be somewhere “if the creek don’t rise,” then they mean they’ll be there if nothing unforeseeable happens in the meantime. This phrase has also frequently appeared in pop culture, specifically in songs by Ray LaMontagne and Hank Williams Sr.
“He’s too big for his britches.”
Ever met someone who seemed overly confident, to the point where it’s a bit conceited? In the South, they’re likely too big for their britches, meaning their ego is inflated. Or, they’re so self-centered they think they are better than everyone around them.
“That dog don’t hunt.”
This is a phrase people say when something is broken or has stopped working. Think about it: hunting dogs work really hard to hunt their prey, so if they’re not hunting all of a sudden, they’re not working, either. You can use this phrase for pretty much anything that’s broken.
Diagonal, crooked, cattywampus. They all mean the same thing in the South. Sometimes, if something is cattywampus, it’s figuratively askew, too. For example, if someone’s political views don’t align with another person’s, the first person might call the other’s views cattywampus.
If you reckon something, you think it. Someone might say something like, “I reckon we should go to the store before dinner” or “I reckon that’s a great idea” instead of saying they think it.
“Dumber than a sack of rocks”
Instead of calling someone or something stupid or unintelligent, in the South, you might hear, “They are dumber than a sack of rocks.” This phrase is also fairly common in other areas. Literally speaking, rocks don’t have any smarts, so the phrase makes sense, despite how random it is.
“I’m fit to be tied.”
If someone says they’re fit to be tied, they don’t mean they should be tied up; they are likely extremely angry or agitated. Metaphorically speaking, the person might be so angry or agitated they need to be tied up to keep them from lashing out. Still, it’s just an expression used to emphasize strong emotions.
In the South, “bread basket” usually doesn’t refer to the food you pass around the table. Instead, it’s humorous, sarcastic slang for stomach. “My bread basket is rather full” is just one example of someone using the phrase to explain that their stomach is full.
Usually, people use “hear tell” in a sentence; it’s not a standalone phrase. They might say something like: “I hear tell you are going to have a baby.” It’s a phrase people use when they are referring to hot gossip or the talk of the town.
“As scarce as hen’s teeth”
Just like the phrase itself, “as scarce as hen’s teeth” means something is extremely rare or in short supply. Quite literally, hen don’t have teeth, which might be why this exists as southern slang. It’s referring to something extremely rare or unheard of to many.
“Walking on a slant”
Think about it: someone who’s walking on a slant is probably not feeling too well. In the South, people use this phrase to describe someone who has had too much to drink, which completely makes sense, because being intoxicated can indeed make you walk on a slant.
“Your druthers is my ruthers.”
This is a cute way to tell someone you agree with them. It can also mean that you share the same likes, interests and opinions as someone. In other words, your personalities likely go very well together.
“What in the Sam Hill?”
This phrase is a nice way to say “What in the heck,” and it has multiple possible origins. Most people associate the phrase with the devil, though, because it refers to where the devil resides, and it’s an expression people use when they’re startled. Again, it may sound random to most people, but in the South, this phrase is fairly common.
“Barking up the wrong tree”
Although dogs do bark at things, including trees, that’s not what this phrase is trying to say. Don’t mess with someone who tells you that you are barking up the wrong tree. This usually means that you’re interfering with something that’s none of your business. It might also mean that you’re completely wrong about something.
“Everything’s hunkey dorey.”
As strange as it sounds, “hunkey dorey” is used to describe something that’s going well or just fine. If everything is “hunkey dorey,” then you’ve got nothing to worry about.
“You’ve got horse sense.”
Contrary to how this phrase sounds, “horse sense” is actually a compliment used to described something that is common sense. Someone who has good “horse sense” is typically very smart and knows how to put their smarts and wit to good use.
“Bubba and Sissy”
In the South, “bubba and sissy” are short nicknames that refer to brother and sister. They can be used separate or together, but they’re cute nicknames used to describe siblings. So if “bubba and sissy” are coming over later, that simply means the brother and sister.
“Hoppin’ John” is not a man, despite what you might think! It actually refers to a popular Southern dish made from rice, meat and peas. It’s common to eat this around the holidays, so if you’re visiting friends and family in the South, expect this dish to be on the table.
“Color me green and call me a pickle!”
As strange as it sounds, “color me green and call me a pickle” is an expression of surprise or shock. Someone will usually use this sentence if they are experiencing utter surprise. It really has nothing at all to do with actual pickles or the color green!
“Slap my knee and call me Sally!”
Here is yet another phrase people in the South use to express surprise. And no, they’re not referring to anyone specifically named Sally with this exclamation! It’s actually just a funny, random way to say something along the lines of, “You don’t say?”
“Who licked the red off your candy?”
This phrase is a direct reference to the song “Who Licked the Red off of Your Candy” by Little Jimmy Dickens. Generally speaking, it’s a sarcastic phrase used towards someone who seems frustrated. It’s almost as if to say, “What’s wrong?” or “What happened to you?”
“No bigger than a minnow in a fishing pond”
Think about it: minnows are tiny, and they definitely look tiny compared to bigger, fully grown fish in a large pond. In fact, minnows are so small they are pretty difficult to spot in a wide-open pond. So, if something is “no bigger than a minnow in a fishing pond,” then it’s likely very small.
“I’m as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs!”
We’re not sure how a long-tailed cat would react in a room full of rocking chairs, but in the South, it means someone’s nervous if they use this expression. Maybe the cat would be extremely confused to see a bunch of rocking chairs spread across a room. Who knows.
“Don’t let the screen door hit you where the good Lord split you.”
Here’s a sarcastic sentence if we’ve ever seen one. This is not a nice thing to say to someone, especially in the South, where “letting the screen door hit you where the good Lord split you” means “leave.” It’s usually an urgent request too, likely the result of someone getting upset.
“I’m hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit.”
If you’ve ever heard someone say they are “hanging in there,” chances are, they are not doing as great as they wish they were. Or, they are “hanging on by a thread.” It’s the same with this Southern phrase, except with a biscuit. Classic Southern slang right here.
“I’m madder than a cat getting baptized!”
Cats generally hate water, especially if they get immersed in it, so if someone says they are “madder than a cat getting baptized,” you won’t have to think twice about how they’re really feeling. Hint: it’s likely they are pretty upset about something.
“It’s as worthless as gum on a boot heel.”
Southerners love metaphors, and this phrase, which just means that something has zero worth, is no exception. Quite literally, gum on a boot heel is about as worthless as you can get. People step on it, it’s dirty and it serves zero purpose, which is probably why Southerners like to use it in this funny saying.
“He’s so cheap he wouldn’t give a nickel to see Jesus riding a bicycle.”
This phrase is pretty random (who thinks about paying money to watch Jesus ride a bicycle?!), but it means exactly what it says: that the person who’s being described is cheap. So if you value friends who don’t absolutely obsess over money, then this is a phrase you’d steer clear of when describing someone.
“More than Carter’s got little pills”
This saying sounds strange, but it has its origins, specifically a medicine from 1868 called Carter’s Little Liver Pills. If you’re unfamiliar with these pills, then chances are you wouldn’t understand or even use this phrase. If someone uses this phrase, they’re trying to say there’s a huge amount of something.
“‘Til the cows come home”
Cows enjoy spending ample amounts of time grazing pastures, which may be why the South came up with this special phrase. If you’re doing something until the cows come home, then you’re likely doing it for a very long time or until it’s completed.
This way or that way? Ever heard someone say something is “over yonder?” Or that they are going “over yonder?” If so, it simply means whatever they are referring to is across the way or “over there.”
“It’s blowin’ up a storm”
If you’ve ever witnessed a tornado or a high-impact storm, then this phrase will make total sense to you. Tornados and storms always involve extreme winds, which is exactly what this phrase is referring to. It’s a common phrase in the South and Midwest when a storm is brewing and the wind kicks up.
“Quit being ugly.”
To warrant receiving this comment, you’d have to be pretty rude, have a high temper or act extremely judgmental. It makes sense, too, because being rude is far from attractive. In fact, it’s ugly, and you should quit being it.