Slang - Funny Sayings - Southern Dialect
I’m fascinated by slang, southern dialect, and funny sayings. Since I grew up in the South, “Southern speak” is just part of life for me. Until I got old enough to read extensively, I thought everyone talked the way people around here did - except for those movie and TV stars. I can’t really include myself in this group of Southern dialect speakers – my mom was very precise about grammar and vocabulary, so I was expected to express myself accordingly. Even so, I slip into slang from time to time, and I sometimes use funny sayings and slang words that are rampant in the Deep South. I also have a pronounced southern drawl. Most Americans are aware that people from different parts of the country have their own regional dialect. What you might not realize, however, is that different parts of the South have their own individual southern dialects. There are numerous southern dialects. This is true even of neighboring states, and in fact, within individual states. This fact became startlingly clear when I compared my husband’s and my grandmother’s speech to my own southern dialect. Enjoy this romp through slang and funny sayings!
Granny grew up in Charleston and lived in both Charleston and Savannah as an adult. My grandmother was what you might call a proper Southern lady. I grew up listening to her stories of these two sister-cities, and I found them fascinating. Better than the actual narratives was the delivery. Granny had a lovely lilting voice and used a charming southern dialect. Here are some of her pronunciations and sayings:
Vegetable – This was a four-syllable word for Granny, although most of us in the South say “vejtable” – three syllables.
Battery – Granny used to talk about how they would stroll the “Bottery” on Sunday afternoons.
Turn off the lights – Granny “outed” the lights.
Blue jeans – To Granny, they were dungarees.
Charleston – Chahlston (no R)
Here or hear – heeya
Granny was a huge fan of Clark Gable, especially in his role as Rhett Butlah.
House – hoose (I think this came from my grandmother’s Scottish ancestry – she was a Kilpatrick.)
About – aboot (I think this also came from Granny’s Scottish heritage.)
Small sofa – a settee
Large sofa – a davenport
A bathroom or kitchen sink – a basin or wash basin
A closet was always a chifforobe.
A refrigerator was an ice box.
Any shirt worn by a female was a blouse – even if it was in reality a ratty tee shirt.
Granny’s bathroom was her lavatory.
Advertisement – Granny said ad VER tis ment.
Sausage – Granny said sossidge.
She referred to both a beer and a bear as a beya.
Charleston, South Carolina
My husband, Johnny, is from North Carolina, and some of his words are very amusing to me and my Georgia friends. He grew up in Charlotte, but his family was from the Appalachians, so he speaks a sort of Hillbilly, which includes slang and pronunciation alterations. After meeting some of Johnny’s NC friends and relatives who hail from the same part of the state, I realized they all talk like Johnny! It’s definitely a regional thing – my relatives from a different part of NC don’t talk like this. So when I refer to NC below, I’m referring to just one section of the state:
- In Georgia, when we sink in mud, we bog down. Johnny mars up.
- To us, baby chickens are biddies. In parts of NC, they’re dibbies.
- We water our flowers with a water hose; Johnny uses a hose pipe.
- A large machine that moves dirt in GA is a backhoe. In NC, it’s a backhole.
- A wheelbarrow is a wheelbarrow.
- Johnny cuts out the lights.
- He takes a shire when he’s dirty.
- He dries with a tal.
- He warshes his hands.
- He cleans the grill with a war brush.
- He cracks the window when he needs fresh air.
- He was adopted and sometimes says he was an awphan.
- Charlotte is Shahlot.
- Our is are.
- A considerable distance is a fer piece.
- A tire is a tar.
- A fire is a far. (That’s why one of the Wise Men was black – he came from afar.)
- Body is pronounced bi-dee.
- Johnny works in the garden with a tral.
I’m sure as soon as I finish writing this, I’ll think of more interesting southern dialect from my grandmother and my husband. When I do, I’ll add more to this article.
I feel relatively sure that every culture uses some slang words. Maybe we just use more slang here in the Deep South. Or perhaps our slang is better known because it’s more unusual, more colorful, or more interesting. Some of the words and terms below can be considered slang, while others are examples of southern dialect – proper words that are pronounced differently in the South.
Airish – cool, chilly
All gussied up – dressed up
Birdshot – an affectionate nickname for a child
Boggin’ - a pastime that involves driving pickup trucks in deep mud
Break bread – to have a meal
Buggy – a shopping cart
Carry – to give someone a ride in a car
Cat heads – large biscuits, often of irregular shapes
Co-coler – Coca-Cola or any cola beverage.
Coon’s age – a long time
Croker sack – a bag made of burlap
Crunk – drunk, in a festive mood
Dark-thirty – a little after dark
Dinnah – the noon meal
Fern – something or someone foreign
Ferner – a foreigner
Fixin’ - repairing
Fixin’ to – about to
Good ole boy – someone who’s in the clique and has the right connections
Graveyard dead – really dead
Hanker – to want
Hay bear – a fictitious creature that causes shaking, nausea, and/or vomiting for those working in the heat and humidity, especially when loading bales of hay
Heap – a large supply
Heatherns – people who don’t attend church regularly or are “wild” in some regard
Heinz 57 – a dog or head of livestock with mixed breeding
Hen party – an event or gathering for women only
Hissy fit – a temper tantrum
Hootenanny - a party, usually involving music
Idjit – someone extremely stupid
Iron - ours
Johnson time – daylight saving time
Laws – Lord or lordy, used as an expression
Light bread – sliced white bread
Maggot wagon – a food cart
Mash – to press
Mealymouthed – someone who doesn’t speak directly
Meat wagon – an ambulance
Mush – crumbled cornbread in milk
Nary – none, not a one
Nearbout – almost
Nocount – lazy
Pertneer - almost
Pickemup – a truck
Piddlin’ – lazy; a small amount
Pot likker – the cooking liquid in a pot of vegetables that were seasoned with cured pork, usually sopped with cornbread
Oldmonia – pneumonia in the elderly
Oughta - should
Reckon – to think or believe
Right smart – a fair amount of something.
Rile – to incite anger
Run – a small stream or creek
Sass – to talk back to
Scooter-pootin’ – cruising or riding around in a car, with no specific purpose or destination
Skeeter – a mosquito
Sorry – lazy or good for nothing
Stove up – sore, stiff
Suppuh – the evening meal
Tarnation – a mythical place that’s often used in a question, as in “Where in tarnation do you think you’re goin’?”
These parts – this area
The sticks – a very remote, rural area
Toe up - drunk
Tore up – very emotionally upset
Tote – to carry
Urine – yours; something that belongs to you
Varmints – vermin; small animals that are nuisances
Vittles - food
Walmartin’ – a verb meaning to hang out/shop at Walmart
Washateria – a laundromat
Widder woman – a widow
Yam – a sweet potato
Yonder ways – a direction, usually accompanied by a hand or arm gesture
Youngun – a child
What’s the reason for the southern dialect? I’ve done a lot of research on this. I’ve read a lot of theories and have listened to college professors and linguists offer their ideas. The experts don’t always agree, but the general consensus seems to be that the southern dialect is closely related to the vernaculars of Scotland, Ireland, and parts of England – the ones spoken in the 1600s through the 1800s. Most of the South was settled by immigrants from the countries I mentioned, and once the immigrants got here, they often remained isolated on plantations or in remote areas of the Appalachian Mountains. Some of the same terms are still used today, like "hootenanny," a Scottish word. Many of these communities were made up of extended families and/or of closely knit groups, so they weren’t influenced much by outsiders. And that included their dialect, slang words, traditions, and customs.
Southern dialect and slang were also influenced by African slaves. In some southern communities, and on almost all the plantations, black slaves far outnumbered white inhabitants. Some southern slang came directly from African words, like “tote,” for example.
Why do southerners talk so slow? Well, I have my own theory about that. I think it’s the grits! Have you ever tried to talk with a mouthful of hot grits? Give it a try sometimes. You’ll develop a southern drawl, too. It probably won’t make you speak southern dialect, however. And you probably won’t come up with any southern sayings, either.
I think the South is known for some pretty funny sayings. Actually, I’m sure most parts of the nation and perhaps even the world have their own unique colloquialisms, but southern sayings are special to me because I’m a daughter of the South. Below are some funny sayings I’ve been hearing my whole life. Some are self-explanatory, while a few have even me scratching my head!
- Happier’n two dead pigs in the sunshine. Very joyous. I’ve never understood why dead swine would have a reason to be happy.
- That’s as useless as teats on a boar hog. A boar is a male hog and has no use for mammary glands.
- That horse is black as tar. Tar is black, so such a horse would be ebony in color.
- As happy as a possum in a ‘simmon tree. Opossums apparently have an affinity for persimmon fruits.
- Even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in a while. Anyone can get lucky occasionally.
- A cat can have kittens in an oven, but that don’t make ‘em biscuits. Don’t jump to conclusions. Things are not always as they seem.
- As nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers. A cat with a long tail would worry about being injured by the presence of numerous rocking chairs.
- A month of Sundays. An extended period of time
- I got up at the buttcrack of dawn. I got up when the sun began to rise.
- Granpa goes to bed with the chickens. My grandfather goes to bed very early.
- I didn’t know if I outta wind my butt or scratch my watch. I was very confused.
- He’s livin’ high on the hog. He’s living well.
- I’ll pay you when my coon gets fat. I’ll pay you when I’m better off.
- Get off that wheelbarra. You don’t know nothin’ ‘bout machinery! You’re in over your head.
- As crazy as a betsy bug. Crazy, silly, or dizzy. I have no idea what a betsy bug is.
- Easier’n fallin’ off a log. Something extremely easy to do.
- He’s a few firelogs short of a cord. He’s dumb. A cord is a measure of firewood.
- She could make a freight train take a dirt road. She’s really ugly.
- That boy’s as stubborn as a mule. Mules are often noted for their stubbornness.
- You can’t sling a cat without hittin’ one. There are numerous said items in the nearby vicinity.
- It’s hotter’n seven hells today. The temperature is at or above 100 degrees.
- Hellfire and damnation! An expression of anger or frustration.
- Enough to wake the dead. Something very loud.
- Don’t let your mouth write a check your butt can’t cash. Don’t talk too big.
- Grinning like a mule eatin’ briers over a barbwire fence. When a mule eats sticker bushes, it pulls its lips back and appears to be smiling.
- That’d make a maggot puke. Something that’s really smelly or visually gross.
- He could eat corn on the cob through a picket fence. He has an extreme case of buck teeth.
- As crazy as an outhouse rat. Crazy or not knowing which way to go.
- She couldn’t hem up a pig in a corner. She’s very bowlegged.
- Like a wart on a frog. This describes a very lazy person.
- That stinks to high heaven. Something that really, really stinks.
- Well, don’t he think he’s cock o’ the henhouse. Describes someone who has a high opinion of himself.
- Like a bagel in a bucket o’ grits. Describes something that sticks out in a very obvious way.
- That’s better’n sliced bread. Describes something especially clever or useful.
- I’m feelin’ sorta fair to middlin’ today. I’m feeling so-so today.
- We’re getting’ a frog-strangler tomorrow. The weather forecast calls for heavy rains.
- Good enough to make ya slap your grandma. Something that’s really good, most often used to describe food.
- You’re gonna get foundered. You’re eating too much. Founder is a hoof condition equines can get from eating too much in certain conditions.
- She’s a little long in the tooth. She’s showing her age. Horses’ teeth get longer as they get older.
- I got a bone to pick with you. I have to talk to you about something you’ve done to annoy me.
- I’m hongry enough to eat the south end of a northbound mule. I’m starving!
- He could get a peanut outta the bottom of a Co-coler bottle. He has long, protruding front teeth.
- Grandpa’s older’n dirt. My grandfather is ancient.
- Back when Jesus was a boy. Something that happened a long, long time ago.
- Sit down and let’s chew the fat. Have a seat, and we’ll chat.
- Madder’n a wet settin’ hen. Apparently, setting hens hate getting wet.
- You can’t get there from here. Describes a place that’s difficult to find.
- That boy’d rather fish than eat when he’s hongry. This describes a passionate angler.
- They live so far out they have to pipe in sunshine. They live “way out” in the country.
- Fish or cut bait. Do what you’re supposed to do or find something else useful to do.
- Like washing a cat. Describes a difficult task.
- That sticks in my craw. That really annoys me. A craw is in a bird’s throat.
- He’s as old as Methuselah. A reference to the Biblical character’s longevity.
- Well, ain’t that the cat’s pajamas. Isn’t that cool, neat, or clever?
- They don’t have a pot to pee in. They’re destitute.
- Put on your big boy britches. Be a grownup and deal maturely with the situation.
- He ain’t the brightest crayola in the box. He’s dumb.
- I gotta go see a man about a dog. I have to go to the bathroom.
- I ain’t put my face on yet. I haven’t put on my makeup.
- I’m gon’ skin you alive! You’re in big trouble!
- She had a fit over that dress. She really liked the garment a lot.
- Finer’n frog hair split three ways. This is often a response to “How are you?”
- He ain’t got the sense the good Lord gave a billy goat. He’s dumb.
- You’re talkin’ outa both sides of your mouth. You’re saying two different and opposing things.
- She knows which side her bread is buttered on. She knows what’s beneficial for her.
- Tryin’ to catch a cat in a whirlwind. Something that’s extremely difficult to perform.
- Little pitchers have big ears. Children can overhear what they’re not supposed to hear.
- I gotta pee like a crippled goat. I feel an urgent need to urinate. I’ve always wondered why lame goats feel such pressure.
- She looks like she was rode hard and put up wet. She looks old/tired/ugly/abused.
- He moves like the dead lice is fallin’ off ‘im. He looks barely alive.
- I didn’t know if I should $hi& and go blind or fart and close one eye. I was in a dilemma.
- Bless his heart. This phrase is usually uttered by genteel southern ladies, immediately after they’ve said something bad about a person.
- Well, I swanee! This expression is used as a substitute for swearing or cursing.
- We’re burnin’ sunlight. We’re wasting time.
- I’m gonna jerk a knot in that boy’s tail! The boy is in trouble.
- He’ll squeeze a nickel hard enough to make the buffalo beller. This is in reference to a buffalo nickel and is used to describe a miser.
- That dog won’t hunt. This could mean that you don’t believe what’s being said, or that the suggested idea won’t work.
- I’d jump on that like a duck on a june bug. I would take full advantage of that situation.
- Like white on rice. Same as above.
- As slow as molasses in January. Describes someone or something that moves very slowly. In cold weather, molasses gets thick and becomes difficult to pour.
- He ran like a scalded dog. He ran away quickly.
- He’s richer’n ten inches up a mule’s butt. He has a lot of money.
- He’s a hard dog to keep under the porch. He doesn’t like to stay home much.
- $hi# or get off the pot. Make up your mind!
- She’s so ugly her mama had to tie a pork chop around her neck to get the dog to play with her. She’s supremely unattractive.
- He looks like he stuck his finger in a light socket while his mama was beatin’ him with an ugly stick. Describes a very unattractive male.
- Slicker’n owl $hi#. Describes something slick and slimy.
- Hotter’n a firecracker on the Fourth of July. This could describe something that’s hot, temperature wise, or someone who’s very attractive and sexy.
- Like water off a duck’s back. Ducks have natural oils on their feathers that shed water. The expressions describes something that doesn’t bother or anger.
- Them boys are rough as cobs. This in reference to dry corn cobs, which are rough. The boys are unruly/mean/uncouth.
- Tell the truth and shame the devil. Be honest and tell the whole truth.
- Smart as a whip. Does the average whip have a high IQ?
- He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. He’s completely tone deaf.
- As lost as Hogan’s goat. Hopelessly lost. I never have figured out who Hogan is, or why his goat is always lost.
- She ain’t got no home raisin’. She wasn’t taught any manners by her parents.
- He eats so much it makes him por’ to tote it. “Por’” here means skinny. He eats so much he stays thin.
- She looks wormy. She’s too skinny.
- Madder’n a hornet in a rainstorm. Apparently, these stinging insects don’t like to get wet.
- As busy as a church fan in dog days. Dog days are hot, and before churches were air conditioned, hand-held cardboard fans would be passed out to the congregation.
- Wild as a mink. Wild, unruly.
I hope you got a kick out of these funny sayings and my examples of slang and southern dialect! If you know some other interesting southern sayings, please share them in the comment section. In fact, they don’t have to be from the South. Heck, they don’t even have to be from the Unites States. I do ask that if the funny sayings are in another language, please translate them for those of us who speak only English so that we can enjoy them. If you know of some more southern slang, I’d love to hear that, too. Also, I ask that you not be too quick to judge us southerners as dumb and ignorant. Some of us are actually of or above average intelligence. I sometimes think that many of my fellow southerners just enjoy being thought of as “colorful” and “different.” Perhaps that’s the reason why funny sayings and slang are so widely and so often used here in the Deep South.
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