The most common Southern expressions explained

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The Southern American states – we’re talking about states from Florida to Georgia and everything in between – are known for their incredible summers, cheaper living costs, and their true love of sports. After all, they are home to some of the leading football teams in the whole county.

Regardless of where you live, the chances are you’ve bumped into someone from the south. However, it can almost be like they are taking another language. While many of us have our own colloquialisms from wherever we are, it can be like talking to someone that knows a different dialect.


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Thankfully, we now have a cheat sheet that means we can keep up with the random phrases and expressions we so often hear. No longer will you have to nod along and pretend that you know what others are saying.

In fact, you may even find yourself using some of your own. Whoever knew there were so many of these Southern expressions?

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Be able to see Christmas

This isn’t a threat – although, you may have annoyed your grandma if she says this phrase to you when you come downstairs wearing your newest mini skirt. Rather than straight up saying they think your skirt is too short, this phrase is used instead. You may have legs that go on for days, but your grandma won’t be happy to see what lies at the top of the Christmas tree. If you hear this phrase, you better hope you have a pair of pants you can slip into instead.

Citified

Sometimes people break out of the country and head off to the city. It can happen to anyone, and occasionally these individuals forget all about their country roots. Instead, they return sophisticated and urban. This could also count for a product that turns up in southern stores. If you or your product looks too fancy and modern, then you may find yourself being described as “citified.” Although this one might be easier to guess the meaning, it can be confusing if you have never heard it before.

Aren’t you precious?

Yes, the phrase that sounds like someone is but nothing but kind to you. However, it is really a southerner’s way of giving a backhanded compliment. If someone asks how precious you are, you have just been told that you are actually being offensive. This phrase has cropped up all throughout arguments, but be warned: you might be about to get taken down. When someone uses “Aren’t you precious?” they are really reminding you that they are in charge and you are, in fact, trying to challenge the leader of the conversation. Ouch.

Playing possum

Possums are anywhere and everywhere throughout America. In fact, they can often be as much of a nuisance as raccoons, as these little creatures rummage through trash and cause mayhem wherever they go. However, they also have a secret trick up their sleeve – they play dead when there is danger around. “Playing possum” means that you are pretending to be dead if you are in a dangerous situation. Also, it could be used to describe someone that is pretending to be asleep.

If the creek don’t rise

Here is a phrase that is used to instill hope in others. However, it’s a bit different to other expressions that talk about everything going to plan. “If the creek don’t rise” actually means that if nothing bad happens, everything should go as it has been planned. So you just have to make sure the creek doesn’t rise to ensure you get the outcome you are looking for. Simple? Kind of, but it only makes sense to those that live near creeks.

Eyeballs are floating

Have no fear; someone that says their “eyeballs are floating” doesn’t need to go and see an eye doctor. In fact, they need to visit somewhere else – and fast. This phrase is a politer way of saying that someone needs to visit the bathroom. Perhaps you have found yourself needing a visit so badly you feel as though you’re full? That’s what southerners are trying to get at. Maybe if you look really closely, you might even see their eyes start to fill up? No, that’s just too much to think about.

Coke

Many of us now refer to Coca-Cola as Coke. That’s fairly standard. However, what is more, unusual is the fact that down in the south they use “Coke” to describe any kind of fizzy soda. Yes, if you order a Coke in a restaurant, you may find the waiter or waitress checking which flavor you are really after. It seems bizarre to most others, but down in the south, this has just become part of their everyday lives. How very strange.

Off like a herd of turtles

Turtles are known for living for hundreds of years, having a portable home, and, of course, being very slow. Have you ever heard of the tortoise and the hare? If someone says you are “off like a herd of turtles” they are basically saying you have started slowly, or aren’t making a great start. Although it might not be the biggest insult in the world, you may want to think about picking up the pace.

Cattywampus

No, we haven’t just made up a word. Although, people in the south may have. Regardless, it is now a common word that can often be heard in conversation, even though no one else knows what it means. If you hear someone from the south describe something as “cattywampus,” they are saying that it is crooked or sideways. It could be anything from parking to a shelf or picture hanging on the wall. It’s so fun to say, too. Cattywampus.

Good ol’ boy

When you think of the south, you may conjure up images of fishing, hunting, and camping? You might not be too wrong. Traditional southerners will use “good ol’ boy” to describe a man that loves getting down and dirty outside. This phrase can also be used to describe a man that likes to get involved with challenging situations or behaves rambunctiously all the time. It’s basically a man that wants to keep in touch with their inner wild side.

Nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs

This one may sound as though it’s got a complicated meaning, but think about it. A long tail and being stuck in a room full of people rocking away – wouldn’t you be worried about getting your tail caught underneath at any point too? That’s what southerners are trying to get at with this phrase. If you hear this expression, someone is trying to imply that you are acting jumpy or continually looking out for something that might not be there.

Snake in the grass

Villains and bad guys in children’s movies have often been shown as snakes. Why? This is because they are often seen as sly and evil creatures. So they make the perfect animal for a southerner to use when they are describing someone that is conniving. To top it off, being a “snake in the grass” could also mean someone is likely to strike out without warning at any given time, much like snakes do in the wild. You don’t want to be described as one of these.

Bless your heart

You may have heard this phrase used plenty in the past, but what does it actually mean? Is it someone being kind, or is it their way of sugarcoating another backhanded compliment? Well, it kind of means both. “Bless your heart” is actually used when someone believes someone says something wrong when they thought it was right. However, it can also be uttered if a southerner feels you need to act your age and deal with the situation. Sadly, you might have to pay attention to their tone of voice to get this one.

Catty-corner

We’re starting to assume there must be a lot of cats in the south. “Catty-corner” might sound like somewhere the person with all the cats lives. It could also be the place that the local felines head to at night, to scrap and look for food. However, when a southerner uses this phrase, they are saying that something is diagonal to something else, such as buildings on the corner of the street. Don’t ask us; we’re not quite sure where it came from either.

Get the short end of the stick

This is a phrase that has slowly started making its way out of the south, but that isn’t to say that everyone knows what it means. Don’t worry; we are here to clear things up for you. If someone says they “get the short end of the stick,” they aren’t about to head down to the woods and build a treehouse with a short piece of wood. No, this phrase insinuates someone has got the unfair part of the deal or have been cheated by someone else.

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