Since meeting my husband few things have become more apparent than the fact that the North and South are really two different cultures. We’ve known each other for five years and have been married almost three and yet this continues to reveal itself on a fairly regular basis. I mean, you’d think we’d have covered all of that ground by now, but, alas, it seems that we really were brought up worlds apart. This is never more apparent than in regards to food and language.
One of the first times I visited my future in-laws someone brought up stuffed cabbage at the dinner table. When I said that I had never heard of such a thing (because who the heck would stuff a cabbage and what with??), Vin’s dad, who had said nary a word to me the entire time I’d been visiting, looked up at me with the face of a man who has just seen a small-scale alien invasion and practically shrieked, “Have you never been to a wedding reception?!?” (I later learned that it’s a staple here and is totally delicious. Sounds gross, but, oh my stars, is it yummy.)
Also, I recently found out that none of my in-laws have ever had cheese grits. This kind of makes my heart hurt. A lot. It will soon be remedied, though, so don’t you fret.
Since I grew up in Texas it is obvious that I was subject to the obligatory brainwashing that prevails in our state. And let’s have a moment of silence to consider the greatness thereof.
Many people in the North think that Texans are arrogant and overly cocky about their state. This is entirely true. However, you must admit that there’s something to be said for a state that garners such devotion. Especially when that state has as few trees and as many cows as Texas does. (Not all parts, I know, but I’m talking about the Panhandle here. If you can love the Texas panhandle, you’re a special breed. The kind of breed who thinks 100 mph gusts of wind makes for perfect track meet weather and driving 45 minutes to the Wal-Mart makes for a romantical date. You know who you are.)
Part of the Texas indoctrination that is taught in elementary schools across the Lone Star State is the lingo. A good Texan’s vocabulary will be peppered with weird sayings and odd expletives that make people from other states wonder what in the wide world of sports we’re talking about. (I have a personal belief that Texas is not the only Southern state to do this. I once had a roommate from Alabama who completely put me to shame in the lingo department. She was brought up right.)
What I have discovered since moving to the North Country is that in Texas nobody takes notice of these sayings in the least. At the most, these little Southernisms are considered cliché, overused and are a dime a dozen. But here, here people think they’re funny! People like them, have never heard them before, and are tickled to death (yes, that’s one) to learn them and quickly add them to their own vocabulary. At least this goes for my mother-in-law and maybe two of her friends, but I foresee it catching on…
I gave this little lesson on Southernisms to my mother-in-law partially to translate what I’m saying to her and also so that she can use them on the ghetto kids who attend the school at which she teaches art. Did I mention the woman’s a saint for teaching art in a Cleveland public school? She’s a total rock star. So, as you’re reading this list of definitions and uses please please please imagine her spouting these off to the thugs in her kindergarten classes. Amen and amen.
Ugly: Being or acting ugly has nothing to do with your looks. It’s all about attitude. I very frequently use this term when speaking to my daughter:
“Margaret Rose, we do not kick the puppy! That’s ugly!!”
Sweet: The opposite of being ugly; being nice.
Oh, bless your heart: This one is very common in the South and has multiple uses. It’s also my favorite. If you’re a sweet person and you hear about some calamity that has befallen one of your friends, or even a remotely known acquaintance who was a friend of a friend of your mama’s, you’d use this phrase to denote how you feel about their current situation. For example:
“Did you hear about Karlene Franklin’s cousin’s cat? Well, the poor thing got lupus and lost its hair and now Charlene – Karlene’s cousin – she loves that cat, you know – is gonna have to put it down!”
“Oh, bless her heart! I am so sorry to hear about that!”
This use of the expression is genuine and kind. Unlike the second use. The second way to use the phrase allows the speaker to say something ugly about another person in a very sweet sounding way:
“She is just the homeliest looking girl I have ever seen, bless her heart.”
“Those boys are just dumber than rocks, bless their hearts.”
“Well, bless her heart, she can’t help it that she’s a skank! Look at her mama!”
You get the picture.
Jesus, take the wheel: This is one that I picked up from that roommate from Alabama. It is the perfect expletive to use when you feel like you are absolutely going to lose it on someone or something. The best way to say this is with a zillion exclamation points after it and while looking up to the heavens imploring our God to intervene. It’s especially useful when your child has emptied an entire package of baby wipes and strewn them about her room when she was supposed to have been taking a nap. (Claaaassic Peg!)
Lordy be: I picked this one up from my sister-in-law, Becky. She’s brilliant in pretty much every way, Southernisms especially included. This can be used much like “Jesus, take the wheel” but it’s lots quicker and a bit more flexible in its use.
Dadgummit: Don’t quote me on the spelling of this. It’s phonetic. Or something. Use it when you’re trying not to cuss in front of a small child or elderly relative…or when you want people to look at you real funny after you stubbed the business out of your toe.
…in my heart where Jesus lives: I only use this one on very special occasions because I really can’t do it justice. Another one from the Alabaman roommate, who used to say this when she was very, very excited, which was about every five seconds.
“We’re going to Zaksby’s for dinner? That makes me so happy in my heart where Jesus lives!!!”
If you’re going to use this one, it’s best to employ the most ridiculous Southern accent you possibly can. “Heart” should sound like, “hart”; “Jesus” like “Jeeeezzzuuuhs”; and “lives” needs as many syllables as humanly possible. Just saying this once will make you happy in your heart where Jesus lives. I promise.
There are about a zillion other Southernisms out there, so feel free to add your own and remind me of the ones I’ve missed. These are just those which come up the most in my daily conversation and have made their way into the mouths of my Northern family. Now for those grits…