This question can kiss my grits.
March 26, 2009 2:54 PM   Subscribe

Southern phrases like "gets my goat" and "burns my biscuits"?

I just started working with an amazing guy from Mississippi and every other sentence is a regional phrase like "running 'round like a chicken with their head cut off" and the above "got my goat" and "burns my biscuits."

I love love love the ingenuity and creativity of his verbal skills, and I want MORE! Please humor me, MeFites, with some awesome and unique wordings, phrases, jokes, etc. from the South. Would love it if you would specify the region overheard as well.
posted by curiositykilledthelemur to Society & Culture (70 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Roy Wilder, Jr.'s book, "You All Spoken Here," is full up with Southernisms.
posted by Carol Anne at 2:56 PM on March 26, 2009

"That dog'll hunt." - used to mean "that will work"
posted by Night_owl at 2:56 PM on March 26, 2009

There's the classic "Bless his/her heart!" which can mean one of several things, depending on inflection and situation: what a dear!; how stupid!; oh my goodness!; no, really?; OMFG you have GOT to be kidding me! just to name a few.
posted by cooker girl at 2:56 PM on March 26, 2009

Some from my family/friends:

-"Slicker than snot on a doorknob"
-"Way out by Robin Hood's barn" (as in, to answer: where are the fuck are we?)
-"law sakes alive"
-"You're cruisin' for a bruisin'"
posted by nitsuj at 2:56 PM on March 26, 2009

Hold your taters till your gravy cools.

That boy is so ugly, he could make a train take a dirt road.

Bless his/her heart! (in the South, this is a nice way of saying someone is an idiot)
posted by lootie777 at 2:57 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by rhizome at 2:57 PM on March 26, 2009

Thought of a couple more:

"Fix'n to" means "I'm about to do _______."

In rural Mississippi where my mother's family comes from, they'll say, "How much y'like?" for "How much longer do you have/How long will it take you to do _____?"
posted by cooker girl at 2:58 PM on March 26, 2009

I wouldn't know him from Adam's house cat.

Someone needs to open up a can of whupass on that boy.
posted by misha at 3:03 PM on March 26, 2009

"Get 'er done"... kinda gross, refers to getting work done or the other kind.

"goin' rootin'" driving around drunk or just generally partying?

"that's a pretty many"-- meaning that's a lot of something

"where you from... taxachusetts?" meaning are you a yankee?
posted by Rocket26 at 3:04 PM on March 26, 2009

what do you mean by South? anything below the Mason-Dixon line? or just Mississippi & it's environs? i ask because i've got some friends down in Texas that have reported some colorful phraseology... anyways, something i did hear from a friend down in New Orleans on a particularly sweltering day:

it's hotter than a pig's butt in a pepper patch!
posted by jammy at 3:08 PM on March 26, 2009

One that always makes my more northern friends laugh -- down South we call the knitted winter hat a "toboggan" (pronounced TOE-boggin) or just "boggin".
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2009

She looks like she's been rode hard and put up wet.

Whatever blows your dress up.

"Sworpin'", as in "going out drinkin' and sworpin'", can refer to a wide variety of mischieviousness.

(Eastern Kentucky)
posted by little e at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2009

"Put it up" means put it away. The first time I heard this I was twelve and had just moved to Texas from Arizona, and my teacher said "put up your books." I wondered whether there was some sort of elevated bookshelf somewhere in the room.
posted by jschu at 3:11 PM on March 26, 2009

If I tell you a hen dips snuff, you can look under her wing.
posted by sanko at 3:12 PM on March 26, 2009

Bear Stearns? Oh, that creek bank operation.
That’s about as useful as a trap door on a canoe.
You look about as happy as a tick on a fat dog.
I’m finer than frog hair split four ways.
Well that just dills my pickle.
He was as mad as a mule chewing on bumblebees.
You’re lyin’ like a no-legged dog.
She was so tall if she fell down she would be halfway home.
That was faster than green grass through a goose.
Our preacher’s as full of wind as a corn-eating horse.
posted by netbros at 3:13 PM on March 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

Is getting x's goat really a Southern US thing? I thought that was common in many English-speaking regions.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:13 PM on March 26, 2009

Similar to "That dog'll hunt," but opposite: "That dawg won't hunt," meaning it ain't gonna work.

Also remember:
Y'all - singular
All y'all - plural

And they tell me that anyone born north of Interstate-10 is a Yankee. (Which I am - so if you're fixin' to argue with me, well, that dawg won't hunt.)
posted by TurnedIntoANewt at 3:14 PM on March 26, 2009

Flat as a fritter: very flat.

In a coon's age: a really long time. And that is a reference to raccoons, not a racial slur. Or at least, that's how most people mean it. Still, given that some people think it has a more offensive origin, you might not want to use that one.

Too big for your britches: big-headed, egotistical

Take off your coat and stay a while: Make yourself comfortable. (Regardless of whether or not you've actually got a coat with you or how long you intend to stay.)
posted by katillathehun at 3:15 PM on March 26, 2009

Would you consider Texas part of "the South?" A friend's Texan father has been the source of many... unique colloquialisms that I've heard, my favorite of which is this little gem:

"That's wronger than two fat boys kissing on a church pew"

(Note: I've substituted 'kissing' for the rather baser word he used originally, and to really read this right, you have to pronounce"wronger" and "than" as one word.)

He also said "I'd rather be lucky than good," but I've heard that one on TV/in movies lately too so that might not be a new one for you.
posted by trunk muffins at 3:15 PM on March 26, 2009

Slicker than shit through a goose.
Mad as a wet hen.
Well, if that don't beat all. (expression of incredulity)
Shit fire, save matches.
Choppin' high cotton. (doing something fancy)

...and I've lived in Alabama most of my life and NEVER ONCE heard anyone except some asshole from Nebraska on the TV say "Get'er done."
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:16 PM on March 26, 2009

Also remember:
Y'all - singular
All y'all - plural

Not where I'm from. They're both plural, and adding the "all" is just for emphasis, right?
posted by jschu at 3:19 PM on March 26, 2009 [7 favorites]

My husband (born & raise in Oklahoma & east Texas) says that when something or someone is messed up they are "lookin' like a soup sandwich."
posted by macadamiaranch at 3:20 PM on March 26, 2009

Is getting x's goat really a Southern US thing? I thought that was common in many English-speaking regions.

same for "cruisin' for a bruisin'" which i heard often in the good ol' boy state of Rhode Island... definitely also used to hear "gets my goat"
posted by jammy at 3:20 PM on March 26, 2009

Curious child to cook-

"What's in the pot?"

"Lares for to catch snoopers."

(Virginia, ca 1925.)

For first rate essays on the south and southerners, look to the incomparable John Shelton Reed, author of such classics as "My Tears Spoiled My Aim". Oh, he's good
posted by IndigoJones at 3:21 PM on March 26, 2009

He’s about as handy as a back pocket on a shirt.
She’s so clumsy she could trip over a cordless phone.
He’s acting crazier than a sprayed roach.
It’s so dry the trees are bribing the dogs.
He’s tighter than a flea’s ass over a rain barrel.
posted by netbros at 3:23 PM on March 26, 2009

Is getting x's goat really a Southern US thing? I thought that was common in many English-speaking regions.

Beyond evidently being American in origin, it's not clear what region it really comes from.
posted by scody at 3:23 PM on March 26, 2009

Dan Rather
posted by milkrate at 3:25 PM on March 26, 2009

"...cranks my tractor." As in to become excited over.
posted by wfrgms at 3:26 PM on March 26, 2009

...and one more:

The sun shines on every dog's ass someday. (in the event of unexpected good fortune)
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:26 PM on March 26, 2009

Oh, and speaking of colorful phrases that may or may not actually be Southern in origin: my grandmother was born and bred in Wyoming, and she had the single most hilarious repertoire of amazing phrases I've ever heard. The two that come most immediately to mind: a heavy person was easier to jump over than walk around, and a short person would have to stand on a brick to kick a duck in the ass.
posted by scody at 3:32 PM on March 26, 2009

"Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit!"

When I lived in the South for a few years, I noticed that some things were said strangely, like, you don't turn on the lights, you cut on the lights. You don't take a picture, you make a picture. Your picture isn't taken, you had a picture made.
posted by bristolcat at 3:35 PM on March 26, 2009

"Three sheets to the wind" A touch too much alcohol. Via the Golden Traingle, Mississippis; if you need a regional reference.
posted by new and improved buzzman IV at 3:37 PM on March 26, 2009

"Don't dilly-dally." Somehow this means "hurry up".

"Mad as the snake that married the garden hose."

"They took off like two hound dogs that backed into a porcupine."
posted by Zambrano at 3:43 PM on March 26, 2009

"..go pound sand down a rat hole" (get lost, mind your own business)
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:48 PM on March 26, 2009

A couple I remember my late uncle (from Arkansas) used to say:

"Useless as tits on a boar hog."

"Slicker than owl shit on a hollow log."
posted by metagnathous at 3:49 PM on March 26, 2009

Y'all is definitely plural. All y'all includes everyone in a group.
posted by little e at 3:53 PM on March 26, 2009 [3 favorites]

Here in Alabama y'all is always plural.

When asking the question "What are all of you fine people are doing?" you actually say:
"What ch'all doin'?"

Never say "yous guys" or "you all" unless you want people to know you're from the north. We tend to think of northerners as carpet baggers and while we claim we have some northern friends we are basically a bunch of northernists. We also can't understand why people would want to bag carpets and bring them down here anyways.

"You ain't right."
"Yeah, but I ain't wrong either."

It even works as a double negative:
"I ain't never done nothing wrong."

When asking directions be prepared for:
"It's over yonder."

When I was growing up I had a friend who used to say "It's colder than a witch's titty." I don't know where he got that phrase, but he was peppered with all kinds of colorful language. That's just the one that came to mind.

I can't think of any of the stuff I've heard in the bars (most of which is probably offensive anyways).

"Get r' done" is something made up by Larry the Cable Guy. It's not real southern and only came into the vernacular during the whole 'it's cool to be a redneck' comedy era thing. Most people who say it now are generally scorned as being an old school new-era redneck. The irony is not lost upon us that the phrase 'old school' is also old school.
posted by robtf3 at 3:56 PM on March 26, 2009

"What are all of you fine people doing?" is what I meant to type. Ugh.
posted by robtf3 at 3:56 PM on March 26, 2009

Nthing y'all is plural (2-4ish people). More than that can be either y'all or "all y'all" (as it's used where I was raised in Texas.)

My grandmother, almost 80, was raised in rural Arkansas, and among the sayings I've heard from her:

Colder'n [colder than] a well-digger's ass.
Poorer than old Job's turkey. [Pronounced 'Jobe' as in the Bible]
Mad as a circle saw

Once when I was a kid I overheard her talking about a friend who has a hysterectomy, and I could tell it was some kind of surgery, but I didn't know exactly what had been removed. I asked her, and the answer made no sense to me at all back then: "Everything but the box it came in." I assume that's some kind of regionalism.

I've also hear her mention "her bottom dollar" to mean her "last dollar."

One night during a particularly strong thunderstorm, my great uncle said:
"I've been to three goat shows and two county fairs and I ain't never seen nothing like it."

Finally, my grandfather, raised on a Oklahoma farm, had a bad habit of burping at the dinner table and saying "'Scuse me, neighbor. Thought you was a cow." I don't know if that's a genuine expression or just a granddadism unique to him.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 4:09 PM on March 26, 2009

Don't think Mad as a wet hen is a strictly southern thing. Nor Too big for your britches

Vaguely remember something about rat shit and it being pointed at both ends. Can't quite recall the exact phrasing. Anyone?

Also, check into The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
posted by IndigoJones at 4:13 PM on March 26, 2009

Not Southern, but hillbilly talk: go buy the wonderful book Pissing in the Snow (self link to a Metafilter post) for plenty of off-color examples. In fact, I mostly collect the dirtier of these phrases, so you'll forgive me for the coarseness of the following:

"You look like a monkey trying to fuck a football" (You're being ridiculous)
"scrambling like a three-legged cat trying to bury a turd on a frozen pond."
"colder than a witch's tit in a brass brassier."
"oh man, I'm higher than giraffe pussy."
"Luckier than a two-peckered preacher." (That one was my grandfather's. He pretty much ruled.)
posted by Bookhouse at 4:16 PM on March 26, 2009

-I always got a laugh out of "hotter'n a fresh f*cked fox in a forest fire fartin firecrackers" but I'm not positive it's fully southern, as I heard it first from a well traveled friend of mine from up north in origin
posted by Redhush at 4:22 PM on March 26, 2009

"Like a bat out of hell." As in someone moving extremely fast.
posted by Atreides at 4:33 PM on March 26, 2009

Cuter than a speckled pup.

And I agree about y'all always being plural. I have never heard it to refer to just one individual.

Mississippi gal here.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:35 PM on March 26, 2009

Oh, and a question of my own. Has anyone out there ever referred to children as "chaps"? My cousins do this, but I have heard no one else say it. I can't decide if it is specific to that side of my family, or if it is a regional thing--they live in a much more rural area than I.
posted by thebrokedown at 4:41 PM on March 26, 2009

A lot are already in here, but:

wouldn't bat a lick at a snake is a southern-ism for lazy people.

We also had a whole chapter in 7th grade language arts (this was in the text book mind you) about "teach" versus "learn". Cause we southerners often say "I'm a learn him a lesson he won't soon forget." I say this, but its ironic. I hope. I didn't know that this wasn't a lessson in everyone in the country's english text books until, um, college.
posted by zpousman at 4:56 PM on March 26, 2009

How about "so good your tongue'll beat your brains out trying to get it"? My mom's former boyfriend used to say that about food that was especially tasty (looking online now I guess the full version is something like "so good, if you put it on your head your tongue'll beat your brains out trying to get it" - personally I like the shorter version) ...
posted by DingoMutt at 5:39 PM on March 26, 2009

My grandmother, who was from South Carolina, often scolded us children with the phrase "Don't go showin' your butt!" She said it as long as anyone could remember.
posted by Subspace at 6:38 PM on March 26, 2009

From my south mississippi Grandma:

"illiformed" for someone with a birth defect

"drunker than Cootie Brown"?

"John Brown it!" as expression of disgust

a large, healthy serving of anything, esp. homegrown vegetables: a mess of
posted by neelhtak at 7:07 PM on March 26, 2009

Me: Are you kidding?
A family friend from Tennessee: I am as serious as a heart attack!
posted by Hop123 at 7:20 PM on March 26, 2009

Girl with her midriff showing... "she looks like a can of busted biscuits"
hot day... "hotter 'n Georgia asphalt"
unless you want to start trouble..."don't start, won't be none"

"s/he's as nervous a cat in a room full of rockin' chairs"
posted by nimsey lou at 7:25 PM on March 26, 2009

I'd like to add the comedy of Lewis Grizzard. You should be able to find his books on Amazon and maybe some videos on YouTube. Not only does he speak the Southern vernacular, he explains it most of the time. "Yankee's thank we talk funny...*God* talks like we do." RIP Lewis, go Dawgs!

Another comedian that exploited the Southern language was/is Bob Batcheldor. He used flash cards in explaining words. i.e., Momonyms=my mother and her peer group. "Where is everybody? Mom and thems downt the store."
posted by bach at 8:05 PM on March 26, 2009

How are you? "Fair to middlin'."
When will you get here? "Between now and after a while."
posted by headnsouth at 8:20 PM on March 26, 2009

A number of these expressions are not Southern…or at least not anymore.

And "three sheets to the wind" is an OLD nautical term, a "sheet" is a rope used to control a sail so if three of them are loose in the wind the ship will behave erratically = like a drunk person stumbling around.
posted by Fin Azvandi at 9:30 PM on March 26, 2009

Just wanted to pipe up that "y'all" as a singular is something of an identifying characteristic of AAVE rather than southern speech.

Tragically, I don't have any legitimately capital-S Southern family, so that's where my contribution to this incredibly delightful thread must end.
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:45 PM on March 26, 2009

I'm fond of "showed his/her ass"... also in Carolinas- no idea how widespread this phrase is but it conveys a scene in three words. It's concise and also fun to say. It can be a flameout or simply being assertive when called for, which are all too often considered the same in my particular region.

"She's a mess" conveys the same affection as "she's a hoot". If a southerner calls your child "a mess" it means they are just too precious + mischievous + cute.
posted by auntbunny at 11:12 PM on March 26, 2009

I don't know if this is common but I called a vendor for something that is in the South and I asked if I could use a specific setting and he replied "hey, whatever toots your fancy." I still get a kick out of that one.
posted by zennoshinjou at 6:12 AM on March 27, 2009

Couldn't pour piss out of a boot if instructions were written on the bottom/heel/soul = dumb, incompetent
posted by Liver at 6:31 AM on March 27, 2009

Colloquialisms, not necessarily Southern:
for someone who talks a lot and fast: "she talks a blue streak"
for someone who talks a lot: "he could talk the leg off a cast-iron mule"
raining hard: "raining pitchforks"
uninformed person: "he doesn't know shit from apple butter"
posted by littlecatfeet at 6:43 AM on March 27, 2009

Oh, I miss the South right now!

My grandfather's expression of surprise is "Well, THEY!" I've never heard anyone else say it, but he's Southern through and through.

Also, "tickled" or "tickled pink" is to be amused by something.

When I moved to Tennessee at age 11, my teacher went through a list of Southernism's I should learn, and one that's always stuck in my mind was "Comin' up a cloud" meaning it was going to storm soon. I've never actually heard it outside of that conversation though.

Making a generic or proper name a specific (as in "Fixin' to go to the Walmart") is unique to the South, I think. Especially hilarious when there is no other Walmart around for, oh, 60 miles or so.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:45 AM on March 27, 2009

Oh, I forgot one -

Bigger 'n' Dallas: huge. Just huge.
posted by katillathehun at 9:35 AM on March 27, 2009

smack you baldheaded.
posted by stinkycheese at 9:43 AM on March 27, 2009

A few of my favorite things I've heard in Texas that may or may not be from Texas:

--Don't piss on my boots and tell me it's raining
--It's not my first rodeo [also as in insult, must be his first rodeo]
--All hat and no cattle [to describe a bullshitter]
--I'm a small dog in tall grass [trying to escape notice]
--I'm not from Texas, but I got here as soon as I could
--He's not right [weird, deranged, strange-thinking person]
--I know you're not trying to tell me... [when you hear something you don't like, rephrasing idea in a ridiculous-sounding way]
posted by *s at 10:14 AM on March 27, 2009

I'm gonna get this done "If it hairlips the mule/ the governor/ the governor's mule"
My grandparents and other old Texans I've known have used variations of that. Above someone mentioned "Drunker than Cootie Brown" but I've always heard it as "Cooter" Brown.

-- Slicker than goose shit/ snot
-- Busier than a one-armed paper hanger / one-legged man in a butt kickin' contest
-- A big storm is "frog strangler"
posted by Mamapotomus at 12:30 PM on March 27, 2009

Some elaboration on some previously mentioned phrases:

-- "Tickled pink", in these parts (Ala/Tenn), means very happy with, or delighted (until just now, I had never heard it allude to amusement). An opposing reaction would be "fit to be tied" -- very unhappy (angry or frustrated, not gloomy or depressed)

-- "law sakes alive" is actually "law'd sakes...", where "law'd" is a corruption of Lord

-- "Fixin to" is a conflation of "repair" and "prepare", so it makes perfect sense to say "I'm fixing to fix dinner" = I'm getting ready to cook dinner. An often heard phrase: "I'm fixing to do that, right this moment"

A couple/three phrases which I heard a lot when growing up:

"Bless your little black heart" -- an endearment, or praise, given to someone who has done something nice, or considerate, or kind. Or, I suppose, just saying "thanks".

"Give it a lick & a promise" -- to make a quick/immediate & temporary effort at a project, with the intention of making a more substantial effort in the future.

"Give it a stab" -- to attempt, as in "I'll give it a stab" (I nearly wrote "to make a stab at a project" above, then realized that in this case "stab" is an idiom..)

I suppose everyone knows that storytelling is deeply embedded in southern culture, and that people are constantly renewing, inventing, and generally trotting out new phrases, to see if they'll take hold, right?

And most are also aware of the propensity for indirectness, to avoid (directly) offending others? (the history, sociology, etc.etc. of this gets complicated & intertwined fast)

'Just thought I'd mention two of the forces which generate this large body of colloquialisms..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 12:32 PM on March 27, 2009

"Ugly as Death backing out of a shit house, reading Mad magazine."
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:49 PM on March 27, 2009

"You'd rather jerk-off a tiger in a telephone booth than to mess with him"
posted by jasondigitized at 6:05 AM on March 28, 2009

Reading this and the other linked threads are making me realize just how Southern my family really is...

Not sure if all of these are Southern, but they sure all sound like it:

- "I'ma jerk a knot in your tail"

- "My lands!"

- "Rollin' around like a bb in a boxcar" ("bb" as in from a bb-gun)

- "Hotter'n two fuzzy field mice fucking in a wool sock"

- "Madder'n a wet hornet"

- "You lie like a rug"

- "I'm so hungry, my stomach thinks my throat's cut"

- "Come git some before I come fetch it"

- "I smell like a boar 'coon" - I stink (like a male raccoon)

- "Dad gummit!" - alternative to the GD curse

- "It'll put hair on your chest!" - an encouragement to eat something, especially something that's strong or "good for you."

- "Dumb as a box of rocks"

- "Well I'll be!"

- "Sit a spell"

- "I do know to my time!" (or, shortened, "Well I do know!") - An exclamation, my grandma says this, and I've never heard anybody else say it, nor have I found any examples on the internet (which makes me think she must have made it up)

Lots of people have already mentioned y'all, but one I haven't seen mentioned - y'ouns (pronounced "yuns") - plural, "you people"

Where I'm from, it's soda. I like in "pop" country now, and it drives me crazy.

This doesn't exactly fit into the scope of this question, but it's very Southern - I had an ex who used to work in a bookstore, and was confused by a woman who asked if they had any books on "the process of corns..." It took her quite a while to realize she was looking for a book on the prices of coins.
posted by illflux at 11:29 AM on March 28, 2009

It was always "colder than a witch's *left* tit", or "colder than a brass monkey's balls". Anything I wanted my grandfather would say "was in a sack on the back of the door at the barber shop". And Blivet, "ten pounds of shit in a five pound bag".

"y'all" is what you yell at a group of family/kids ("y'all git in here now", "y'all stop that"). "all y'all" is *everybody* ("all y'all we're fixin' to eat now"). So plural, but one is a small specific group, one is anybody who can hear you.

Gramps was a truck driver back in like the 20's, kept a stick that they used to whack tires to check air pressure, fight of bandits, etc... "n-word knocker". (He also propped down the gas pedal going up the mountains, got out to take a leak and chased up the truck before the corner.)

(South Western Virginia)
posted by zengargoyle at 1:37 AM on March 29, 2009

.... because, damnit, southern Virginia is the SOUTH.
posted by Night_owl at 11:55 AM on March 29, 2009

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