“The past is never dead; it is not even past.” – William Faulkner

southern speak

“Made” This is a general Southern, catch-all word used for everything when you cannot think of a proper word to use or when there simply isn’t a word to sufficiently describe the action or event.  For example, “She made me do it,” “They made a photograph of me,” “I made it (I finished it,)” “My wife made a baby (she gave birth,)” and “I’ve got it made, now (I‘m a success.)”


“Take you to the woodshed” On rare occasion, some usually well-behaved Southern children were unruly.  However, in genteel society it is rude to speak harshly or to discipline anyone in eyesight or earshot of another genteel Southerner.  Therefore, the child to be disciplined is taken far away from the ‘big house,’ to the backside of the lowly woodshed where the preferred type of switch is administered to the backside of the recalcitrant child.  That term has carried over to rhetoric describing bad behavior in other grown-ups.


“Types of Southern barbeque” Perhaps the second fiercest debate (immediately behind the reason why the Yankees invaded us) revolves around the best type of barbeque.  Essentially, there are two types of barbeque: a vinegar-based sauce centered in the Carolinas and the tomato-based sauce essentially in the rest of Dixie.  Throughout most of the South, the pig has been traditionally used because, in the past, most people were poor and pigs were let loose to forage for themselves.  Sauce variations are cropping up in northern Alabama – the white sauce; Memphis – known for its distinctive rubs and Texas – where beef has become predominate.

Kansas City is well known for its steaks and barbeque; however, since it is north of the Mason-Dixon, it is discounted out of hand, because who would want to waste their time eating Yankee barbeque?


“You’re lookin’ mighty poorly” This expression has nothing to do with your wealth or finances and everything to do with your health.  One whose health is failing or who has lost a lot of weight can be said to resemble one who has run out of money and cannot afford to feed himself properly.  Hence, you are said to look as though you are not able to afford the proper food.


“Fixin’ to” Another term that can mean a myriad of things such as: ‘getting ready to,’  ‘repairing something,’ ‘I’m fixin’ dinner (as in getting dinner ready,) and the entire shebang, as in fried chicken ‘with all the fixins.’

A typical Red-neck conversation might go like this, “Have you fixed dinner yet?”  “Naw, but I’m fixin’ to fix it.”


“Meal time in the South” This is one area the Yankees have screwed up so badly I’m afraid that we’ll never ‘fix’ it.  There are, generally speaking, three main meals every day; breakfast (when you break the fast of the nighttime,) dinner around noon and supper sometime after quitting time.  Now, up north they have such things as lunch, afternoon snacks, bedtime snacks, dinner at suppertime and supper at dinnertime.  Yeah, and they even have a combination of the morning and noon meals called brunch.  You cannot tell time by their meal schedules and that’s one less element taken away from a graceful life.

Dinnertime is signaled by the ‘dinner bell’ not the ‘lunch bell.’  Sunday dinner was the big meal of the week at noon on Sunday when everybody got together for chicken and all the ‘fixins’ at ‘Sunday dinner.’  Throughout all of Dixie you will never hear of a ‘Sunday lunch’ and you only hear about ‘brunch’ when they are trying to communicate with a Yankee.  Bless their hearts.


“Now, ain’t you precious?” This is something that a matronly Southern lady would say to some one so ugly that she had to sneak up on a mirror to look at herself.  Genteel ladies down South, pride themselves in saying something good about something or some one about which there is absolutely nothing good to say.  To that blessed lady you could rightly say, “Now bless her heart for saying that,” and you’d be correct.


“I’ve done put up with all I’m going to.  This is the last time I’ll be telling you that.” If you don’t understand exactly what that means, then keep on doing it and you’ll find out exactly what that means when Daddy comes in for the last time..


“Quit being ugly” This has nothing to do with how one appears, rather how one acts.  ‘Being ugly’ means that you are treating some meanly or with disrespect.  ‘Quit being ugly’ means that you should ‘straighten up and fly right’ and you might oughta do it pretty quick, especially if Grandma says it and don‘t make her say it twice!


5 thoughts on “Southern Speak: The Past is Never Dead by Gary Wright

  1. Gary, the issue of which style BBQ sauce is irrelevent. All of it was invented to cover up badly done BBQ. If BBQ needs sauce it “ain’t fittin”

    1. Gary Wright

      Tom, you are correct. But I also believe that good BBQ sauce makes those other delicate meats a little more palatable, i.e., ‘possum, ‘coon, various sweetbreads and my favorite – armadillo.

  2. Joe Rolwing

    Gary-I served with the Navy broadcasting Vietnamese television from an airplane in 67-68. We also had a airplane in DaNang broadcasting psywar radio. We had a relation with SOG at Ton Son Nhut. Were you familiar with any of this.
    A second point, Kansas City’s latitude is 39.0097, the Mason Dixon Line’s 39.7167, but I agree with you that Kansas City isn’t “south”
    I grew up in Charleston, MO., and in Nashville. Tom Lawrence is on the Board of my employer.
    Thanks for sharing your work.

  3. We all knew what Dad meant when he said “You going to ‘get it'”.
    At least we could communicate, good story.

    1. Gary Wright

      “You are going to get it” is almost as good as “this is the last time I’m going to tell you!”

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