It’s Fixin’ to Rain
by Joe Goodell
The expression “fixin’ to” (never “fixing to”) is characteristically Southern, especially rural Southern, although its use has been reported in Chicago and Cincinnati.
It turns out that the term, most often used simply to indicate a proposed action, is in fact complex in origin and form. It is unique in the English language, but seems to be unwelcome in proper English discourse. It can’t be regarded as colloquial, that might dress it up too much, nor can it be dismissed as slang. And it can’t simply be replaced by “getting ready to,” etc. It is widely useful, certainly not unsavory, so likely here to stay.
Beyond indicating a personal action soon to occur, “He’s fixin’ to mow the lawn,” “I’m fixin’ to go,” or an impersonal, “It’s fixin’ to rain,” the phrase has evolved to new meanings. It can even precede a false promise or delay, such as, “I was just fixin’ to”—a likely procrastination.
There can be determination, “She’s fixin’ to take lessons,” or trouble, “He’s fixin’ to get himself arrested,” or apprehension, “’fraid I’m fixin’ to come down with the flu.” Perhaps a warning to the kids, “Y’all are fixin’ to get a spankin,” or even tax time resignation, “I’m fixin’ to be audited,” or the expectant jubilation of fishing buddies, “We’re fixn’ to catch the big one today,” and possibly some electioneering retribution, “This time we’re fixin’ to vote those self-righteous gentlemen out.”
By tone and context, therefore, the speaker can manipulate his intent over a wide range. And by evolving new forms and functions, this unique expression is thus following a universal trend in our language.
Grammatically, “fixin’ to” is a “phrasal auxiliary,” or a “quasi-modal” verb which modifies the main action verb. As such, it has been around in Southern lore since an 1820s recording of its use in everyday speech. Its exact origin, however, what compelled the original users to such linguistic structure and why it has persisted is obscure.
It has enriched our language and performs well on its own. We therefore need not burden it with too much analysis. So when will I be closing this dissertation? “Well, I was just fixin’ to.”
Rain clouds image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to www.pixaby.com