The common good is often uncommonly bad
In every section of the country, colloquialisms are born and then passed on through the generations. The South has produced an abundance of them. Many are more prevalent in rural areas, some more widespread, but all conceived through rationale based on normalcy for the period of conception or because of a specific regional activity. Authority on southern slang, Gary Wright, explains some of the common place phrases many of us grew up hearing, providing explanations even die-hard southerners may not know.
I’m gonna kick your butt so hard, you’ll be eatin’ off the mantle for a month.
Throughout history, whenever one was to be punished, the least vulnerable and most accessible part of the body to attack has always been the derriere. In most people, that part of the body contains more mass than elsewhere, some more than others. That part of the body can more easily absorb physical blows, and there are fewer bones to break. It is more comfortable to stand up when experiencing a sore butt!
Such a blow does cause some degree of indignity, not to mention a relative amount of pain. The harder the kick, the greater the pain, and if the kick is hard enough, it would be uncomfortable to sit down. The fireplace mantle would be an ideal place, common in every household, to set one’s plate and utensils to most contentedly consume a meal.
Southern girls don’t sweat, they ‘glisten
Southern girls are so fair and delicate that they would never do such a common, dirty thing as allow sweat to break out on their bodies. Such an ordinary, unclean phenomenon simply could not happen to such beautiful, delicate creatures.
Fair to middling
Cotton is and has always been of major importance to the economy, culture and vernacular of the South. Raw cotton is graded by color. There are five colors ranging from pure white to yellow-stained. Within the color groupings there are seven grades based on the quality of the cotton fiber, ranging from ordinary to good. Right in the very middle, the very average cotton fiber is ’middling.’ The term fair to middling means that the item referred to is just plain ordinary and okay.
Puttin’ up tomatoes
Puttin’ up tomatoes has nothing to do with the altitude of the objects in question. It refers to canning vegetables by partially cooking and placing them in glass jars with sealing rings. When the vegetable cools, the space inside contracts causing an inward pull, and the ring seals, leaving a permanent inward pull. This keeps fresh air and food-spoiling toxins outside of the jar. It should more correctly be called canning, however that would not be entirely accurate, because glass jars are generally used, having replaced tin cans years ago.
“Jarring” vegetables or “glassin” them connotes an entirely different concept. This conundrum was likely faced many years ago, and the old-timers decided on a term that was not entirely correct versus one that was openly stupid.
Running around like a chicken with its head cut off!
Running around like a chicken with its head cut off, as with many common Southern sayings, refers to a real-live event. Every country boy and girl knew that Mama’s famous Sunday dinner began early that morning when Mama sent her eldest son, Billy Joe to the chicken yard with an ax to select the plumpest, “bestest” hen in the yard. She was generally the one that laid the fewest eggs (talk about incentive.) Grabbing her by the neck, he twisted very hard, thusly wringing her neck, breaking the neck bone and windpipe.
He then laid the still flopping body across the chopping block, and with one swift motion, chopped the hen’s head clean off. A strange thing occurred. Some liken it to a miracle: the chicken promptly began to walk on both feet in a wobbly, irregular circle for a few steps before giving up the ghost. Mother hen died for our sins, er, appetite!
Go sit in the truck or go cut me a switch!
A curt statement usually used by a parent to a child (at least my wife has never told it to me) issuing an ultimatum concerning what the parent perceives as bad behavior. The youngster is being told that you have one of two choices: either, shut up and stop what you are doing, or you‘re going to get a whipping with a switch that you have the privilege to cut for yourself! Not that this has ever happened to me, but if you find yourself in this situation, you should cut a switch from a silver-leafed maple. It‘s the softest one.
This town is so small, they roll up the sidewalks at sundown
Sidewalks are expensive to construct and expensive to maintain. So, it only makes sense that, if the sidewalks are not going to be used at night due to little foot traffic, then they might as well be rolled up and stored away to limit use and extend the sidewalks’ lifetime. In a town quite small, this makes a whole lot of fiscal sense. However, the labor cost would probably negate any monetary savings.
Share favorite Southernisms in the comment section!
All photos provided by Deborah Fagan Carpenter