The southern United States is one of the most famous and culturally distinctive regions of the country. Stereotypes and misconceptions abound- the American South of today doesn’t look much like “Gone with the Wind,” and thankfully, it doesn’t resemble “Deliverance,” either. However, it does have a dialect all its own. Here are some of the things you might hear people say if you travel there:
Y’all: Short for “you all.” Example: “Y’all come back now, you hear?”
Bless your little heart: Depending on the situation, this phrase can either be a heartfelt expression of sympathy or a particularly condescending insult. Example: “Paula Deen has diabetes. Bless her little heart!” “Bless his little heart, he just can’t help it. You can’t fix stupid!”
Toboggan: Everywhere else (except parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, a commenter has pointed out), a “toboggan” is a sled. In the southern United States, a sled is a sled and a toboggan is a knit cap worn in cold weather. This word is often abbreviated as “boggan.” Example: “Put on your ‘boggan before you go sledding, or you’re like to catch your death of cold!”
Aim to: Intend to or plan to. Example: “I am to go into the city this weekend.”
Holler: A small, sheltered valley. Example: “My family lives in the holler.”
You might could: Maybe you can. Example: “You might could fix it with duct tape.”
No ‘count: Not worth anything. Example: “She married a no ‘count bastard. He just sits at home and drinks beer all day.”
Ain’t: Is not, are not, am not: Example: “We ain’t going out today. That ain’t gonna happen.”
Like to: Likely to, nearly or almost. Example: “I was so surprised I like to died of shock!”
Cat-head: A large, homemade, irregularly-shaped breakfast roll. The rest of the US calls these “biscuits.” Example: “Mama made a pan of cat-heads and gravy for breakfast.”
Coke: Originally short for “Coca-Cola,” this is used in the American South to refer to any carbonated beverage, regardless of brand or flavor. Example: “What kind of Coke would you like? We have regular coke, Sprite and Dr. Pepper.”
Reckon: Guess or suppose. Example: “I reckon we’ll be by about 10 o’clock.”
Do you know anyone from the American South? Share your favorite regional words and sayings in the comments!
9 thoughts on “How to Talk Like a Southerner”
I had no idea a toboggan meant a sled everywhere else in the English speaking world.
You really should clarify that this is how to sound like a southerner if you end up hillbilly territory and want to keep the natives from getting angry… while I’ll admit to saying y’all more often than i should and “reckoning” things from time to time, a large portion of these phrases would only be heard in the backwoods or in little mountain towns. Also, while I don’t doubt the authenticity of your sources, I personally have never heard any one refer to a biscuit as a “cats head” as you put it, and I have lived in the south my entire life. In all honesty if you went used some of these phrases in a larger city in the south you would get some odd stares, and may even hear someone say “bless his heart, he just doesn’t know any better”…
I think it depends partially on what part of “the south” you’re in, as well as how urban or rural the setting is. The south is really a big region. I have family and friends in several southern states, and I’ve heard people use every word or phrase on this list…but not all at once! In my personal anecdotal experience, “Reckon,” “Y’all” and “Coke” are pretty much universal, but “aim to” and “like to” I’ve heard more in Mississippi, I think.
And yes, I actually have a friend from rural Tennessee who refers to drop biscuits as “cat heads.” The first time I heard him do it, I thought it was something he’d made up himself during a night of heavy drinking, but no, that’s actually what his family calls them. In fairness, I think he mainly continues to use it because he thinks it sounds funny, and that’s why I included it here. The list was supposed to be fun!
Most of that sounds just about right. I’m from Tennessee and I use many of those words and phrases quite often. Another one that I didn’t see in there was “fixin to” as in, I’m fixin to go to the store. My wife is Canadian and now I live in Canada and that phrase as well as many others I use are unheard of to them and she and her family picked them out, especially the “fixin to” right away. But yes, absolutely, it heavily depends on what part of the south you come from. Different states have thicker accents and different southern dialects for sure. Another thing I notice is how a bunch of the old timers, especially my grandpa, use older southern dialect that sounds really “hillbilly” a lot of the time. A good example is “yonder” like over yonder.
I think I’ve rambled on to much so I’ll leave this comment at this. All in all, great post though. Was a good read. Brings me back to my Tennessee roots now that I’ve been living in Canada for 4 years. I’ll always be a southerner though!
Now how did I forget “fixin’ to”?! Thanks, Cliff!
Uh yeah this list needs FIXIN’. Holler is yelling, noone uses coke to describe what soda(never say pop because you’ll get smacked) toboggan is predominately southern but also in WV PA and OH. and ive never heard of a cat-head…dunno where you got that one as every southerner eats BISCUITS AND GRAVY!!!!!
I stand by the list, actually. Remember, the south is a big region, and I picked and chose words I found interesting from several different states.
I got “cat-head” from a southern friend in East Tennessee. I thought he was just drunk when I first him talking about eating “cat heads,” but apparently that’s what his family calls them, and they didn’t just make it up. “Holler” can mean yelling, but I’ve met people who still use it to mean a small, sheltered valley and it’s all over road signs in the backwoods of Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina. And I heard “coke” a lot in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Fun read! One of my favorites comes from my family in the southern coast (the “Lowcountry” region) of South Carolina: “Great Day”…kind of the “Holy Cow” of the South…except it’s said more as one word: “Greatday!” and with a southern drawl. “Great Day, who drank the last of the Sweet Tea? It’s empty!”