Andrew Parker

18 Southern Sayings You’ll Only Hear Below the Mason-Dixon

The South has some of the greatest things in America, like mouthwatering food and beautiful natural views. But it also has some phrases that, unless you know what they mean, might sound completely bizarre. Here are 18 Southern sayings that might be hard to get your head around unless you’re from there.

Watch Out for Surprises

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“If the creek don’t rise” is a Southern way of saying “unless something unexpected happens,” and it’s meant to acknowledge that life sometimes throws curveballs that we can’t control. It makes sense they use this saying because many Southern states are at risk of flash floods. Sometimes, the creek literally does rise.

Keep Quiet

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“Hush your mouth” isn’t just meant to be a way of telling someone to be quiet. If someone tells you this, they’re actually telling you to zip it because you’ve said something surprising or maybe a bit scandalous. Given how hospitable and polite most Southerners are, being told this means you must’ve really upset one of them.

Hold Up

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When someone’s getting a bit too cocky, just tell them they’re “too big for their britches.” Southern uses this to talk about someone who’s acting like they’re the big cheese when they’re not, and it happens more than you might expect. A Northern equivalent of this phrase would be “too big for his boots.”

Completely Full

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Being in the South means getting to try some of that absolutely delicious food, and there’s nowhere in America quite like it. But what do you do if you’ve eaten a lot and can’t take another bite? In that case, you could say you’re “full as a tick” because ticks get pretty big after they’ve eaten a good meal.

So Fine

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Describing something as being “finer than frog hair” is the Southern way of saying it’s very delicate or fine. Since frogs don’t actually have any hair, you can imagine just how fine something must be if you’re comparing something to it. After all, “finer than dog hair” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

An Impossible Task

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We’ve all had those things in life that seem absolutely impossible to do, and in the South, people say they’re “like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.” It’s pretty obvious what this saying means, and it’s also clear how frustrating this situation is. This saying is truly an American one, as research shows we can’t get enough of the sweet stuff. In 2020, 13.3 million Americans ate four or more Jell-O packages.

Very Nervous

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Someone who’s “sweating like a sinner in church” is sweating buckets, and it’s usually from nerves or just that endless Southern heat. There are some more adult versions of this phrase, but we won’t get into those right now. No matter which version you use, this saying is perfect for describing those moments when you feel so uncomfortable because everyone’s watching you.

Handling It

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Similarly, “more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs” describes a similar situation of being extremely nervous or anxious. Just imagine how that cat would feel trying to avoid all those rocking chairs, and you’ll have an idea how hard it is to stay calm. It’s a pretty weird saying.

A Tough Situation

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Southerners know what it means to experience a difficult situation, and sometimes, they’ll describe someone as “rode hard and put away wet” because they’re so worn out. This comes from horseback riding. If you don’t properly care for a horse after a hard ride, it’ll leave it looking worse for wear.

Really Slow

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When something’s “slower than molasses in January,” it means that you’re going to be in for a long wait. Even on a good day, molasses is slow-pouring, and in January, when it’s pretty cold, it is even slower. This saying is perfect for those times when you’ve just got to be patient, no matter how difficult it is.

Ready to Talk

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You might’ve heard a Southerner talk about how they’re “jawing,” which isn’t anywhere near as painful as it sounds. It simply means they’re chatting or talking a lot, and it doesn’t really matter what the conversation’s about. Southerners love a good conversation, especially when it’s on the front porch, so it’s no surprise they use this one.

Pleased as Punch

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Southerners have a lot of ways to describe being happy, and being “pleased as punch” is one of them. It means they’re feeling great about how things are doing, just like that feeling you get from drinking a fresh glass of punch on a hot day. But perhaps “pleased as sweet tea” would be more fitting for the South.

Good Motivation

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Hearing a Southerner tell you to “get up and at ‘em” is actually pretty sweet, as they’re trying to encourage you to start your day with spirit. It’s a pretty common saying for parents and coaches who are trying to motivate their kids or players. No matter what happens, they want you to be ready for whatever the day throws at you.

Too Busy

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Describing someone as “busier than a one-armed paper hanger” means they haven’t got time to do anything because they’re just so busy. This is for the kind of person who’s taken on more work than they can deal with, and their schedule just won’t let up. After all, a one-armed paper hanger isn’t going to be the best at doing its job.

Slipping Around

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This next one has a couple of meanings. Something that’s “slicker than a minnow’s backside” is pretty smooth or slippery, but when you describe someone being like this, it’s slightly different. Southerners use it to talk about someone cunning and able to get out of tight situations pretty easily.

A Waste of Time

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If you’re doing something completely pointless, it might be “like putting socks on a rooster,” and you don’t need us to explain how much of a waste of time that would be. There are quite a few different versions of this with slightly different meanings, like saying you’re “as mad as a rooster with socks on.” Who would’ve thought fashionable fowl could be so useful?

Very Happy

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Being “happier than a buzzard on a gut truck” means you’re feeling pretty great. This one makes perfect sense because a buzzard probably would feel quite happy if it saw a feast. Perhaps we could give this one even more of an American spin, like saying, “happier than an eagle on a gut truck.”

Stormy Weather

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The South has its fair share of bad weather, and that includes storms. In those kinds of situations, Southerners might describe it by saying, “The tater wagon was rollin’ through,” to talk about how loud the thunder was. But honestly, the idea of a huge potato wagon rolling around sounds a lot scarier than any lightning bolt.

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