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Southern Words
by Newt Harlan

Southerners share a common language with folks of the northern persuasion, commonly known in these parts as Yankees or damnyankees, but the brand of English we speak is about as different from theirs as it is from our British friends. Here are a few words and phrases we Southerners use almost daily:

· Getalong -- This unknown body part is possessed only by Southerners and their animals and its only known purpose is to impede progress when hampered by a hitch. For example, I could barely make it from the house out to my truck this morning because I had a hitch in my getalong.

· Yonder -- When I tell you something is over yonder, you know just about where it is and if I say way over yonder, you know it’s a pretty good piece off. You even know where down yonder is when I say something is down yonder by the rodeo pens. Most Yankees will have no idea what you’re talking about.

· Hissy fit -- A hissy fit is a tantrum you have when you don't get your way. Southerners know that you don't just have a hissy, but pitch one. My Aunt Emma could pitch the best hissy fit you ever saw over little or nothing, but then again she was a rich old lady and could get away with it.

· Conniption fit -- You throw a conniption fit when someone does something that physically hurts you or aggravates an injury. For example, Louis Thomas throwed a conniption fit when Paul Jack poked him in his broke ribs.

· Directly -- Directly is a strictly Southern concept. I can be there directly in two minutes, two hours or two days and it'll still be directly and you'll know what I mean, but Yankees won't.

· Tacky -- Do you know what tacky means? I don't either, but I know when something is tacky. While men sometimes recognize it, women are usually the arbiters of tackiness. My aunt Jonnie Mae was probably the world’s foremost authority on tackiness when she was living.

· Precious -- This term is used by Southern ladies to pay a high compliment such as, “She looks just precious in her new rodeo outfit.” Precious is often used interchangeably with darlin’ and lovely, however beware when Southern ladies call someone or something “nice” or “cute” as these terms are usually only used to appear complimentary when they’re actually being tacky.

· Act right -- This term encompasses much more than just behavior. To act right means to conform to a certain norm as ascertained by the individual giving the admonishment. Such as: If you'll promise to act right, I'll introduce you to my cousin Jerrie; she thinks you’re cute. Or, if you kids don't start actin’ right and stop pulling that old dog’s tail, I won't stop him when he bites your butts off.

· Actin’ up -- Actin’ up means simply misbehaving in general. You can be actin’ right and still be actin’ up . . . a Southerner understands this.

· Cuttin’ up -- Cuttin’ up has nothing to do with actin’ up or actin’ right. Cuttin’ up means teasing and playful aggravation accompanied by lots of laughter and light touching, usually between members of different sexes or an adult with a child. You can cut up and still act right or cut up and act up at the same time. Southerners understand this too, especially mothers of teenage daughters. Of course if a horse you’re riding or one in a trailer or chute starts cuttin’ up, that’s a horse of a different color. In that case cuttin’ up means being nervous and doing some mild kicking and throwing its head and maybe a little pitch or two. Used this way, cuttin’ up is the same as actin’ up.

· Like to have/might near -- These terms are used interchangeably to illustrate extremes when the word almost isn’t strong enough, as in: I like to have died of embarrassment and old Lonnie might near passed out when the preacher mentioned right there in the church house that he’d seen our trucks down at the Dew Drop Inn on the Saturday night before.

· Favors -- Means 'bears a striking resemblance to'. Susie sure favors her mama, bless her heart; I bet by this time next year you won’t be able to tell ‘em apart. ('Takes after' can be used interchangeably with 'favors'.)

· Carry -- We carry our lunch and carry our girlfriend to the parkin’ spot and carry our friends to the beer joint. We take medicine and we take a bath.

· Liable to -- Might do something, as in I’m just liable to show up over at your table around dinner time a-lookin’ for some lunch.

I could probably sit here for a right smart while thinking of examples. We didn’t even talk about 'y’all' or 'tump' or the lunch-dinner-supper controversy or any number of other Southern words, terms and usages, but I reckon there ain’t no sense whippin’ on a dead horse. By now it’s plain to see yankees truly don’t speak the same brand of English we do.

Backtracking a bit . . . the contents of the foregoing article apply only to recent arrivals or “fresh yankees.” Those who have remained down here long enough to be considered for permanent visas have become semi-fluent in Southern speech over the years and this article mostly doesn’t pertain to them.


Newt tells us about himself:

I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin’ distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

I'm Southern to the bone. The sound of “Dixie” being played gives me goose bumps and I stand and remove my hat. My yard dog, B.J., controls the squirrels, cats, meter readers and peddlers around my place. I’ve picked cotton by hand, plowed behind a mule, churned butter, shelled back-eyed peas, and for the first 12 years of my life, went without shoes from April until October. Several of my friends regularly hold conversations with mules, but as of yet I can’t get the danged mules to answer me. I think grits are as much a part of breakfast as bacon, eggs and cathead biscuits. I think ain’t is a perfectly good word and don’t plan to quit using it just because some damnyankee dictionary writer arbitrarily thinks it ain’t.

I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.

E-mail Newt at: Newt281@embarqmail.com

Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Ol’ Red and the Armadillo
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
Railroad Money
Basura Blanca News
Juicing Bovines
That's Entertainment ~ '50s Style!
Railroad Fireman
Curing Colds
Belly Waddin' Lunch


Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.



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