You know, it’s not as easy as I thought it would be to think of some of these expressions or words. I’m so used to them that they don’t seem unusual or special, but they really are. I read the other day that because of the isolation of rural communities, the Southern dialect has changed less throughout history than most others. I guess it’s almost like enjoying a little bit of history just by talking. Of course, there’s not just one Southern dialect since each state in the region has its own little speech idiosyncrasies. These are the ones that are commonly heard throughout the area I grew up in:
A coon’s age – A long time.
example: “Maude, it’s been a coon’s age since I last saw you. What’ve you been up to?”
A month of Sundays – This also means a long time.
example: “Claude, I swear, you haven’t cleaned out your truck in a month of Sundays.”
Knot on a log – A way of describing someone lazy. The word ‘bump’ is sometimes used instead of ‘knot’
example: “All her husband does is sit around like a knot on a log, day in and day out.”
Playing possum – Pretending you’re dead or asleep.
example: “All right, kids, it’s time to wake up and get ready for school. No playing possum, now.”
Umblin’ – Basically it means someone or something that is sweet-natured, very well-mannered, charitable, etc. I’m assuming that it originated from the words ‘humble’ or ‘humbling’. It’s sometime pronounced by dropping the ‘b’ and always pronounced without a ‘g’ on the end.
example: “Have you seen Maude’s baby? That little girl is so umlin’.”
Clodhopper – heavy or large shoes; can also refer to working shoes.
example: “Luann, what a pretty dress you’re wearing, but you need to change out of those clodhoppers and into some nice shoes.”
Biggity – Describes a person that is vain or stuck up.
example: “Luann is so biggity. She always has her nose stuck up in the air.”
Piddle – Waste time or to do nothing worthwhile.
example: “I piddled around all day long waiting at the doctor’s office for my appointment.”
Piddling – This word can mean wasting time, but it can also mean a small amount of something. Usually pronounced by dropping the ‘g’ on the end.
example: “I spent a 100 dollars at the store today, and only got a piddlin’ amount of groceries.”
Drunker than Cooter Brown/As drunk as Cooter Brown – Supposedly, Cooter Brown was a man that lived on the line which divided the North and South during the Civil War, making him eligible for draft by either side. Having family on both sides of the line, he naturally didn’t want to fight in the war. He came up with the plan to stay drunk until the war was over so that he would be seen as useless to both militaries and wouldn’t be drafted. Ever since, his name has become with synonymous with drunkenness.
example: “I’m never going out with Claude again. He showed up to my house drunker than Cooter Brown.”
Knee baby – the next to youngest child in a family.
example: “When my little brother came along, I went from being the spoiled baby to the knee baby.”
South end of a north-bound mule – This phrase is usually used when describing someone or something ugly or smelly.
example: “Phew! Claude, your feet smell worse than the south end of a north-bound mule.”
Mess – Along with the usual meaning of untidiness, this word has two additional meanings to a Southerner: poop (as in dog mess, chicken mess, messy diapers. . . I think you get the idea) or a specific amount of food, usually enough for one family meal (it’s mainly used to refer to peas, beans, greens, or fish). Every summer, my mom and I go pick a few messes of peas and beans (especially if they’re lady finger peas or speckled butter beans, which we both love). Apparently, my mom’s idea of a mess, by the way, is at least 4 five gallon buckets. She always tells me we’re just going to pick a mess, but we end up staying for hours (I don’t mind, though, because I sure do love peas). Thank goodness, we bought an electric pea sheller years ago.
example: “Honey, why don’t you come with me today and pick a mess of peas? They’ll sure be good to have for supper tonight.”
Bogging – To purposefully ride a truck, atv, or utv through mud while trying to get as messy as possible. Usually pronounced by dropping the ‘g’ on the end; the word ‘mud’ is sometimes used, as well (as in, mud boggin’) and sometimes the word ‘muddin’ is used instead of ‘bogging’. Now, I don’t go bogging much anymore, but when I was a little girl, my older cousin and I would sneak off on his four-wheeler everyday during the summer to the woods beyond my house in search of any bit of mud we could find. There were many days we came home a solid brown-orange color from the tips of our toes to the tops of our heads and even in our ears (a lot of our dirt around here is red clay. . . very slippery stuff).
example: “After it stops raining, do you want to go boggin’?”
Washateria – Another word for a laundromat or launderette. The last three syllables are pronounced the same as the last three in ‘cafeteria’. I’ve never used this word, but have heard it many times. Most of my family, friends, and myself, instead, use a very similar word, ‘washatier’. Pronounced like: wash – uh – teer.
example: “My washing machine broke down, so I’m gonna take the dirty clothes down to the washatier.”
Now these aren’t necessarily expressions, but instead they’re a few things that we love to eat or drink:
Tea – In the South, we’re crazy about tea, but any time you hear the word ‘tea’ down here, you can bet we’re talking about iced sweetened tea (almost always orange pekoe). All of our restaurants serve sweet tea, and if you want iced unsweet tea, you usually have to ask for it. If you want any other kind of tea, there’s a good chance you might have to make it yourself. The good news is, even our small town grocery store carries several kinds of tea, from Earl Gray to Green Tea to Chamomile.
Coke – Don’t be surprised if you’re ever down here and order a coke at a restaurant and the waitress asks, “What kind?” Coke is, of course, short for Coca-Cola, but we also call most soft drinks (mainly the ones that aren’t clear) cokes.
Peanuts in Coca-Cola – Just like in Barbara Mandrell’s,”I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool,” a lot of us really do enjoy putting salted peanuts in a bottle of cold coke. Until today, I hadn’t had one in probably two or three years, but it really is yummy – the perfect mix of salty and sweet. So, the next time you’re drinking a cold Coca-Cola, give it a try. . . . It’s not nearly as bad as it sounds ; )
There are so many more and I’ve had such a good time compiling them that I’m definitely going to have to do a Part III one day soon.