Howdy, y’all! Folks in the South often get a bad rap for their quirky colloquialisms and twangy accents. But some of these phrases are just downright fun to say. Whether you’re headed to a finger-lickin’ barbecue festival in Texas or a big ol’ crawfish boil in Louisiana, here are a few Southern slang terms to help you fit in like a bonafide Southerner.
“Ma, where is my John Deere hat?”
“I think I saw it over yonder.”
Where is yonder? Who knows! Yonder is somewhere far away, or fairly nearby, but not too close. Yonder could be the guest bedroom, or the next town over. Yonder basically means “not in this immediate vicinity, but it’s around somewhere.” Yonder came from the Old English term geond, meaning “throughout, up to, or as far as.” While yonder in Southern slang functions as a noun, the original yonder served as an adjective.
“Boy, dad sure gets ornery when he loses that hat!”
You might think you already know this word, but Southerners have a special take on ornery. Its basic definition is the same across the country: mean or cantankerous. The word originated from a dialectical evolution of “ordinary.” The main difference in the Southern usage is pronunciation. While the rest of the country says “or-ner-y,” Southerners say “awn-ry.” Why use three syllables when two will work just fine?
“She can't noodle worth spit!”
If you’re not from south of the Mason-Dixon Line, chances are you’ve never heard of noodling. Noodling is fishing, but with much more personal risk and impending anxiety. Catfish like to hide in underwater holes. A noodler will shove their hand (their noodle) down into the hole in hopes of feeling a catfish. When the catfish bites their hand, the noodler uses their fingers as a hook and yanks the fish out of the hole. If going elbow deep in a catfish sounds like a great time, make sure to check your state’s fishing laws. Noodling is only legal in 18 states.
“Don’t get all bowed up. It’s just a hat!”
If you’ve ever witnessed the preamble to a bar fight, you’ve seen people get bowed up. To bow up means to be overtaken with impatience, or puff up like an animal about to fight. Imagine the way a snake looks right before it’s about to strike. That same kind of energy can flow through the best of us in times of distress.
“I reckon she's not gonna have much luck today!”
Reckon is a true Southern staple. “I reckon” essentially functions as “I think” but with some added Southern flair. “Reckon” comes from the Old English word gerecenian, meaning to explain, recount, or arrange in order. Use of the phrase “I reckon” began in the 17th century in the South. You reckon, I reckon, we reckon, y’all reckon!
“I'm fixin' to go down to the store for some more sugar.”
It doesn't matter whether you want to make yourself a cup of tea or leave the house, this phrase signals you're on the verge of some kind of action. It's mostly used to get someone off your back if they're nagging you to do something. Just hit them with, "I'm fixin' to" and they'll know you'll get around to it eventually.
"What did you say? Oh, bless your heart."
If you’re in the South and you hear a lady exclaim, “Bless your heart!” — watch out! This is the Southern politeness version of “What the hell are you thinking?” and there’s plenty of salty hidden under that sweetness.