In the very first installment of this column some months back, I wrote about the key differences between a fellow, fella and a feller; made fun of Yankees for saying soda and pop; and discussed the pen-pin merger. This time around I'll talk about some key Southern words and phrases in order to give a better understanding of what it is to be "talkin' Southern."
We all know about the word y'all; however, you'd be amazed at the number of people who mess up and try to spell it ya'll. It's a contraction, you all! You put the apostrophe after “Y”, thank you very much. "Fixin to" is another one, naturally, and there a several others. Here are a few that don't get as much attention but are vitally important:
Definition: a mischievous or cheeky person, especially a man or a child. Synonyms: scamp, scalawag, rapscallion, etc. In a sentence: "That rascal Marshall McCart — he just won't do." A rascal, or a scamp, is somebody who is sometimes up to no good - similar to a feller that we discussed in the first edition of this column — but maybe with a certain amount of likability. I'd like to think I have that likability factor to an extent. Regardless, while the South doesn't have total dibs on the word, it certainly seems rather Southern, doesn't it? Bonus: Rascalism — in the act of being a rascal.
Definition: a disturbance or a commotion; Synonyms: racket, fracas, hubbub. In a sentence: "When he lived out in Newborn in that house by the railroad tracks they ended up tearing down, McCart and Company were known for sometimes raising a ruckus." Ruckus is truly a quintessentially Southern word in my estimation. Just look at those synonyms. Fracas? Hubbub?
Definition: a strong desire to have something. Synonyms: yearning, craving, itching. In a sentence: "Every time he found himself near Athens, that fella would always find himself with an insatiable hankering for The Varsity." Why would you ever use any other word when this word is available? It's the epitome of talkin' Southern!
Definition: to go around in search of pleasure and/or entertainment. Synonyms: flit, jaunt, roam. In a sentence: "The feller had a propensity for strong drink and a constant desire to go out gallivantin'."
Now, let's put all of those words together in one sentence: "Right before he left for the evening, his wife asked him why he always had a hankerin' for gallivantin' and rascalizin' and raising a ruckus."
Expressions and Sayings
"Six of one, a half dozen of the other."
A saying that I've been hearing for as long as I can remember, this expression refers to when two things are equivalent or the same. Or, as broad as long, as it were. I always assumed this was strictly a Southern saying but upon researching it I found out it actually originated in Scotland about two centuries ago. But, that kind of makes sense as many Scots found their way to Appalachia and the rest of the south. I actually used this one at the store a few years ago when talking about something with somebody. They were from up north. They looked at me like I was crazy and then asked me to repeat what I had said. After I did, they stared at me incredulously. Even after explaining it to them, they still couldn't get it. I think they thought I had just made it up on the spot.
"Lord willing and if the Creek don't rise."
One of my all-time favorites, this one encapsulates the essence of Southern talk. Basically it means that if all goes well, then we'll see you the next time around. The origin of this phrase has long been credited to Benjamin Hawkins, who would later live in Georgia and was Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the U.S. government in the late 1700s and early 1800s. On a response he sent to the President about returning the capital during the time when several Creek tribes were in a state of rebellion and war, he supposedly wrote this famous phrase. Some recently have tried to doubt the validity of this, but regardless, that's the story that we're sticking with.
Here's a three-fer dealing with somebody's intelligence level - "they're dumber than...1) a box of rocks; 2) a bag of hammers; or 3) a bucket of warm spit. All three of these are just outstanding! And you can substitute the word worthless on the bucket of warm spit one. It's fun to mix all these up, too. "Dumber than a bucket of hammers," or, "that's as worthless as a bag of warm spit!" Either way, you're getting the point across that this person or situation is pretty ignorant in no uncertain terms!
"Run out of town on a rail." "Riding the Rail."
This expression, which is still popular when talking about sports and politics, refers to the old American practice of a group of angered folks grabbing some public official or outcast of the community who had done wrong and making them straddle a fence rail that people would then take to the outskirts of town. It was considered the step below tar and feathering. You don't see it done much these days, but I think there's a few folks in town that wouldn't mind bringing it back right about now.
And a few others: "That dog won't hunt." An idea or a situation that is woefully inadequate. "Snake in the grass." A hidden danger, or a treacherous person. "Happy as a dead pig in the sunshine." This one is kind of a deep cut. It refers to when after a pig has been slaughtered, the sun will dry out the skin and pulls the lips back on the animal making it look like it's smiling. It's a reference to blissful ignorance and is similar to a similar one - "Happy as a pig in slop." "Drunker than Cooter Brown." A lot of us have heard of this one but there's a historical reference to it (somewhat). Apparently Mr. Brown lived right at the Mason-Dixon line and basically stayed drunk for four straight years in order to avoid fighting for either the Yankees or the Rebels. And here's a few more words: "Bodacious." Excellent, admirable. "Yonder." In the far distance. "Bonafide." Legit, genuine, real.
Marshall McCart aspires to one day be able to fully and truly articulate that peculiar essence of what The Esoteric South is all about. He can be reached at: email@example.com.