Colloquialisms abound across the south. It’s not that different from any other part of the US, or for other parts of the world for that matter. Each region will have its own set of words or phrases that is unique to them, then smaller portions of that region will also have their own ways of speaking. It works the same way in the south-eastern part of the United States.
So, I thought I’d talk a little about that; the general phrases one would hear throughout the entire region, but also more localized speech to my particular area.
This is something anyone will hear in any region of the south. It is probably the definitive word for the south. However, I find that a lot of people don’t really know how to use it… or spell it.
It might be improper English, but there is correctness to it still. It is a conjunction of You and All. It is only ever spelled with the apostrophe between the Y and the A. Conjunctively speaking, it should never be spelled as Ya’ll or Yall. Ever.
Just like with the proper English of You, there are singular and plural forms. Y’all is always only plural, and it should never be used singularly. Here we use You for the singular. Y’all is reserved for groups of 2 – 3 people. All Y’all is the term reserved for groups of 4 – 5+ people, though can be used for three or more.
Though I have encountered people who use Y’all for one person, though it is incorrect and while it really bothers me, I can’t really say anything against that. There’s the whole manners issue to contend with. But, everyone I know uses y’all and all y’all whether they’re using it correctly or not. Thankfully my family uses it correctly.
- (one) – How’ve you been?
- (small group) – How y’all doin’?
- (large group) – All y’all comin’ with us?
Contrary to what many non-southerners might think, this is not a nice term. It is a back-handed comment. It’s the mannerly way for someone to say how stupid someone is, without actually coming off as a bitch. Think of this as the smirking popular girl when she says she’s sorry. Alternately, one might also hear Bless Their Pea-Pickin’ Little Heart. It’s just to express more stupidity than the former version. No one in my family uses this, but we certainly know what it means.
Did you hear about Rhonda’s husband leaving her?
I did! Oh… bless her heart.
This simply means a lot of something. I suppose originally it was ‘A Mess Of’ something and then became A Messa. Only used for tangible items in large numbers. So, one won’t really have a messa dreams, hopes, or wishes. This is a term that my family uses.
- A messa cornbread.
- A messa laundry.
- A messa children.
This is basically the term, I think, I suppose, or I guess. I think we should, I think we might, I think this or that. There’s all sorts of variations in southern speak, depending on how relaxed ones vocabulary is. It can also be used as a simple answer. When asked a question if you would normally say, “Yeah, I guess so.” or “I suppose so.”, one can just answer with, “I reckon.” We don’t really use this term, unless we’re joking around.
- I reckon we need to fix the lawn mower.
- I reckon he done gone and got married.
- I don’t reckon he knew that snake was poisonous.
Ending A Sentence With A Preposition:
Is, Are, On, etc. Southerners are forever ending sentences this way and it is apparently very incorrect. There is even one joke where a southerner ends their sentence with ‘is’. The northerner tells them they can’t do that, so the southerner repeats the sentence and adds “bitch” to the end, supposedly to put the northerner in their place. I’ve heard it a million times, and it’s old and with various scenarios; not merely Southerner vs Yankee. I’ve also heard that I can’t end my sentences this way, but apparently it’s OK to? (There I did it again!) But is this like people not using the Oxford Comma or changing spelunking to caving, because I don’t like those updates. Not one bit! And obviously, this is one that I do, along with just about everyone I know.
One generally sees this written out as Fixin’ To, but no southerner that I’ve ever encountered actually says fixin to if they use this term. It’s actually more like fixinta, all run together with an A sound at the end. It basically means you are about to do something; you are in the process of starting, but are not actually doing the said thing yet. My entire family uses this term.
- I’m fixinta go to the store.
- I’m fixinta make a messa cornbread.
- I’m fixinta take a nap.
This is a shopping cart at the grocery store. Perhaps you have another name for it, but the only generalized term for it that I know of is shopping cart. I think it’s adorable, like we’re still using the term buggy from when we had horse-drawn carriages, only I’m not sure why this would be referred to as a buggy, but I like it and it’s something we use.
- Get us a buggy.
- Go take the buggy back.
Quit Bein’ Ugly:
This basically means that you should be polite. Stop back talking. Stop screaming. Stop making rude faces, gestures, or noises. You’re being untactful and you should desist. Generally only said to children. I don’t use it, but I heard it enough as a kid.
This does not mean gumption, fortitude, spunk or anything else along those lines. This means back talking. Manners dictate that one should never sass their elders, and if you do you will get a warning about it. It can be anything from defiance of crossed arms or pouting, eye rolling, foot stamping, as well as back talking. This is a term that I most certainly did hear while growing up, and I have used, but generally in fun.
- Don’t sass your grandma!
- Don’t sass me!
- Are you sassin’ me?!
In the south, this term is not reserved exclusively for dogs. It means exactly the same as for dogs though; to go and get, or find, something and to bring it back. This is not really a term my family uses very often, though my paternal grandmother used it.
- Fetch me my reading glasses.
- Go fetch the mail.
- Go in yonder and fetch me my knitting needles.
Round These Parts / Stompin’ Grounds:
Both of these are similar, but are slightly different. Round These Parts means the area where you live, but you wouldn’t have to have lived there long. Stompin’ Grounds generally denotes a place you know exceptionally well, perhaps even where you grew up or somewhere you have lived all of your life. I do use these terms because I find them fun. I have also been asked the first question… a lot.
- You’re not from round these here parts, are ya?
- Imma show you my old stompin’ grounds!
For some reason, southerners call items by one particular brand name. This is something that I do, but only for certain things. It becomes confusing when dealing with sodas and that is one that I could never stand, because it was so confusing. It is odd that southerners do this, especially since we are not above buying off brands of items, but I suppose it’s the simplicity and ease of using the brand name over the item name. Though the soda thing is not easy. “I want a coke.” “Which kind?” Wouldn’t it be easier to simply say which one you want from the get go, as in I’ll have an orange soda/Dr. Pepper/Sprite, etc? With the other things no one will ask you which kind so it is actually an easy communication of wants.
- All sodas are Coke
- All facial tissue is Kleenex
- All cotton swabs are Q-Tips
- All marking tape is Masking Tape
- All sticky notes are Post-It Notes
- All plastic storage containers are Tupperware
How’s your mama n’em?:
This is a term, that I think, is only used primarily in Louisiana and the parts of Mississippi that border it. Perhaps the borders of Texas and Arkansas might use this to some extent? However, I have only known it to be a predominantly southern Louisianan term, and thus has trickled over into certain parts of Mississippi. This is basically How is everyone?. But mama’s are important, so people in Louisiana make sure to ask about the mama. N’em is and them, as in everyone else. We don’t use it, but I adore it.
This is another term that hails from Louisiana, but is prevalent along the Mississippi border, as well as the coastal region of Mississippi. It means to go and purchase food from the grocery store. We also don’t use this one, but I adore it as well.
- I gotta make groceries.
- I’m gonna make groceries.
- You going to make groceries?
My grandparents used this term, as did loads of people in Arkansas. I’ve not heard it used much in other area’s of the south though. It originally meant toilet as in a piece of furniture that you keep your toiletries in (which now people put that style of furniture in their foyers and living rooms which makes me laugh), and then it meant the toilet. My grandparents were really the only people in our family to use this.
Out Yonder / In Yonder:
Another term that was used by my paternal grandparents from Arkansas, as well as their families. I’ve not heard it used a lot in other area’s of the south, but I have heard it used more than commode. It means a point or place some distance away from, but generally within view of where the speaker is. So, nothing generally over a football fields length away. You’re not supposed to just say it by itself, but are meant to tack on some sort of specific. Alternately, in yonder can be used while inside your house to denote a different room, or can be used while outside to denote an interior of a building. Way Out Yonder would be just beyond the edge of your vision; where you can’t see. My immediate family doesn’t really use this, it was just my grandparents.
- Take this out yonder to the compost pile.
- Go out yonder and fetch me the rake.
- Go in yonder and make your bed.
- Go in yonder and bring the hammock out here.
Apparently this is a term from a region in North Carolina and West Virginia? Somewhere around there. I’ve never heard anyone say this in my life… except for my dad and I have no idea where he picked it up. This is soda, as in any sweetened carbonated beverage like Cocoa Cola or Dr. Pepper. Obviously, I refer to all of it as soda. Most people in the south call it coke. Dad calls them soft drinks, which even though I don’t use the term I still think it’s adorable.
Grocery Store Feet:
Most children in the south run around barefooted, not really because anyone is poor, but because it is so hot. Plus kids like to go barefoot. It means feet that are dirty, so dirty they are black on the bottom. A lot of rural grocery stores, like homes, had dirt floors. With kids walking around without shoes, feet get really dirty, and somehow instead of just dirty feet, you get grocery store feet from all of this. I’ve not heard this in other parts of the south, but in my area, and in my family it was always a term that I heard, and we still use it.
- Look at your grocery store feet!
- Girl you’ve got grocery store feet!
These are two words here, but pronounced exactly the same way. Ain’t is basically Am Not, also Will not or Won’t, while Aint is how people pronounce the word Aunt, as in your parents’ sister. Lots of people in my family say both. Myself, my parents, and my sister do not. Well… my dad will use Aint when it comes to his aunts, but not if he’s telling people about other aunts. For his sister he says “That’s your Aunt Vicki.” One poor Aunt’s name is Martha Sue, and somehow the entire family kept pronouncing it Mothuh. She dropped her middle name of sue and now people can miraculously pronounce Martha correctly. I don’t blame her as Mothuh bothered me as well. If people in the south aren’t pronouncing Aunt as Aint, they are pronouncing it like the insect, ant.
It is not uncommon for an older lady, who isn’t one’s relative, to insist on being called Aunt, instead of Mrs. Plus people aren’t big on surnames here. So, my parents are Mr. Paul and Mrs. Rachel, not Mr. or Mrs. Roberts. The same goes for the honorary aunt position, she’ll use her first name. My parents next door neighbours in the seventies were the Harvey’s. The wife, Mildred, insisted that The Sister and I call her Aunt Mildred and not Mrs. Mildred or Mrs. Harvey. Black southerners will generally call older ladies they do not know, or their own aunts, Auntie, which I absolutely adore. It seems more endearing. It’s not said like the ant, or the Rosalind Russel film Auntie Mame, but with a long A as in ahn-tee. I use Aunt pronounced like Ant, and Auntie.
- I ain’t gonna do it!
- Well hey there Aint Mothuh Sue!
This was only ever used by my paternal grandfather and my dad. Is it an Arkansas thing? I have no idea. It basically means That’s Right! or Hells Yeah! Generally used as an agreed response to a statement someone else has made, but doesn’t have to be. I don’t use it, but I adore it.
- “Did you hear about Petunia winning that award?” “Shootch Yeah, I heard about it!”
- “This is some damn fine banana pudding.” “Shootch Yeah!”