10 Southern Sayings Everyone Should Embrace

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Samantha Bolton)

Southern accents are some of the most distinctive in the U.S. — and, to my ear, some of the most melodic, although there is nothing sweet about a Yankee attempting to mimic a southern drawl. (I’m looking at you, Dulé Hill, aka Larry Siefert).

But while Southern accents should never be appropriated by anyone born north of the Mason-Dixon, Southern slang is a different story all together. After all, Southern speech is both convenient — why use a bunch of words when a contraction will do? — and colorful.

Here are 10 of my favorite sayings. I guarantee you’ll be rarin’ to use them because they’re awesome.

1. Y’all

Y’all is perhaps the greatest contraction to come out of the South since ain’t. The combination of “you” and “all” is a trademark Southern term that fits just about any situation. It’s easy going, gender neutral, and just sounds better than “Yinz” (sorry, Pittsburgh), “Youse,” or “You guys.” Get into it, y’all.

2. Fixin’ To

When you’re fixin’ to do something, that just means that you are getting ready to do a thing — preparing yourself for whatever task, large or small, lies ahead. “I’m fixin’ to go to the store” means “I’m getting ready to go to the market.” Fixin’ to can also be written as “fitna” or “finna,” for those folks who want to elide the two words and make life even simpler.

3. You Don’t Believe Fat Meat’s Greasy

When I was little I always thought the saying was, “You don’t believe fat means greasy,” but either way, it means you’re hard-headed. Usually used to describe a person who’s been warned about something, but went ahead and did it their way anyway. A roundabout way of saying “I told you so.”

4. Ugly as Homemade Sin

When I was a girl, I always heard my grandmother say this, but I never knew what “homemade sin” was. Use your imagination. What’s homemade … and sinful? Yep. My grandmother took country cussin’ to a whole other level every time she used this phrase.

5. Studying

One of my favorites, studying is usually deployed with the full sentence, “Ain’t nobody studying you.” This is used as a retort for a person who thinks they’re all that and a bag of Lay’s potato chips, but the reality is that they’re not. It literally means, “Nobody is paying attention to you or your shenanigans.”

When a Southern person tells you, “Bless your heart,” it’s shade — plain and simple.

6. Every Shut Eye Ain’t Sleep

This is a time-tested admonition for folks to watch out for who they say or do things around. Because people might seem like they aren’t paying attention, but they really are.

7. Bless Your Heart

“Bless your heart” is an oldie but goodie — people the world over know by now (or should) that when a Southern person tells you. “Bless your heart,” it’s shade — plain and simple. It’s the verbal equivalent of giving someone a pitying head pat for not knowing any better. For example:

Brenda: “Did you see Roselyn’s new wig? What did you think?”

Gladys: Knowing look “Bless her heart.”

8. Ain’t You Nothin’

Despite the negatives that crop up in this phrase, “Ain’t you nothin'” is a good thing (most of the time). It means, “Well, aren’t you great!” and is a way to compliment or give props to a person.

9. Iced Tea

Okay, so this isn’t really a saying so much as just truth-talk. What Northerners call “iced tea” is a fraudulent concoction and wrong in the eyes of people from the South. When we say “iced tea,” we mean a cool, refreshing beverage made of steeped tea leaves, water, lemon, and plenty of sugar. If you utter the phrase in any Southern restaurant be prepared for the sweet, sweet joy of real iced tea.

10. Right Quick

Pretty simple, this one means quickly (i.e., “Can I borrow your Bugatti right quick? I need to drive to CVS to buy some Kotex.”) Saying “right quick” at the end of a request is a way of asking for a small favor in a deferential manner.

For my native Southerners, can y’all think of any others I’ve missed?