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Southern Expressions: The South In Your Mouth

I was born and raised in Texas. You might find some argument about whether Texas is South or West or some combination. But when it comes to southern expressions, Texas definitely qualifies as South.

I grew up listening to many of these expressions issue forth from friends and relatives. I thought nothing of it, until I once politely refused a second helping at a non-Southern soiree because I was 'full as a tick'. Jaws dropped. Eyes bulged. It was at that moment I realized I was, in fact, bilingual.

The great thing about learning to speak and understand southern expressions is that you don't have to learn a new language. You just have to rearrange some words from the language you already know.

Some southern expressions have gained widespread familiarity, like y'all (all of you, or maybe just you) and fixin' to (about to) and bless your heart (you're a moron).  But there are many, many others. Most require some translation. Here are a few of my favorites.

Let's do the dogs first:

that dog won't hunt - whatever you just proposed or suggested has fatal flaws in its logic

I've got no dog in that fight - I really don't care what the outcome is

don't get the big dog off the porch - leave well enough alone; sometimes rephrased in other parts of the country as 'don't poke the bear'

Okay, done with the dogs.

all hat no cattle - full of bluster; someone who is too full of themselves for no apparent reason

I don't know whether I'm washin' or hangin' - one of my mom's phrases to indicate she's crazy busy

colder than a witch's tit in a brass bra - one of my dad's jewels. Sometimes you hear the first part by itself, but Dad being Dad, he always likes to add the bit about the bra.

Speaking of cold: butter wouldn't melt in her mouth - she is a cold person; shorthand for bi***

Feeling twitchy? You may be nervous as a long-tailed cat in a rocking chair factory or a one legged man at a butt kickin' contest

not my first rodeo - both my husband and I are overly fond of this one. It just means you've done whatever it is you're doing before. Often used in a snippy tone in response to someone who may express doubts at your ability to perform the task at hand.

fish or cut bait - make up your mind; occasionally more crudely expressed as sh** or get off the pot

happy as a pig in sh** - believe it or not, I've probably heard this said about newlyweds more than I care to remember. Some people substitute 'mud' in polite society, but sh** is what they really mean.


that and a nickel will get you a cup of coffee - whatever this refers to is worth zero zip nada

knee high to a grasshopper - Southerners hear this phrase about eight thousand times from older relatives when attending a family reunion or any time they haven't seen you since you were a kid.

It says something about southern culture that there are so many expressions for someone who is, shall we say, somewhat low in the IQ department:

not the brightest bulb
not the sharpest knife in the drawer
ain't got the sense God gave a goose
doesn't know enough to come in out of the rain
dumb as a carrot

In addition to the 'full as a tick' fiasco, I probably get the second highest number of quizzical looks when I use a Southernism to describe something that is diagonally across from something (kitty corner) or in disarray (cattywompus).

When I was a teenager, my dad sometimes said I would argue with a fence post. I thought it was a compliment.

If you're traveling with a Southerner and they say their back teeth are floating, you best pull over at first opportunity so they can use the facilities.

I get that he needs to look this way for a role, but yikes.

My cousin Nan contributed this one. Unfortunately I find myself using it frequently. For example, when watching the recent Academy Awards and trading red carpet attire critiques with my daughter via text, I told her Casey Affleck looked like Fido's tail.

If my brother and I happen to be out and about and observe the person walking ahead of us who is, shall we say, overly endowed in the posterior, my brother will inevitably whisper to me that her rear end looks like two beavers fightin' under a bear rug. And inevitably I will laugh my head off.


If you're like me and trying to embrace the new minimalist fad and get rid of too much stuff, here's another one of my brother's jewels that might help the next time you are tempted to buy more stuff: I need that like a hen needs a flag.

Photo by Ruth Hartnup on Flickr

My strategy when learning a new language is to pick one or two phrases that might fit in with your lifestyle and try them out, gingerly at first, until you get the hang of it. Maybe tell your loved one their new outfit is fine as frog's hair. Or tell your kids to quit playin' possum and get up before they're late to school. And if I might offer a suggestion: when dining out with non-Southern friends, don't mention ticks at the dinner table.

This post originally appeared as part of my participation in the 2016 A to Z Blog Challenge.

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