Southern Phrase Guide – Sayings that You Will Hear in the South

TV shows set in the South are all the rage nowadays- even the vampires in True Blood are a little more friendly when speaking with a southern twang. We love hearing some of our beloved phrases repeated by the Belles on Hart of Dixie. Only Southerners can dress up a condescending remark to sound like a compliment. Other expressions employ literary devices like hyperbole or a good simile, showing our talent for storytelling and imagery.

If you are visiting Beaufort, SC or the surrounding areas from another part of the country (or world), you may hear words that don’t fit into the conversation. Well, you are about to learn some southern culture when you read about a few of our favorite Southern Phrases.


The quintessential Southern phrase, “Y’all” has several meanings in its own right. The word typically describes a group of people being spoken to. It can be directed towards a group or even an individual that is inherintly part of a group (whether or not the group is present). Sometimes, ‘all’ precedes the word y’all which can be confusing to someone not familiar with the term. Face it, if you visit or live in the South, you are going to hear this word.

Bless Your Heart

Northerners are coming around to understanding what it means due to several prominent Southern television stars who embrace their culture, but ‘Bless Your Heart’ is a phrase used to show appreciation to someone who brings you coffee (or does something nice in general) or as a sympathetic phrase to let you know that the person understands the difficult time you are dealing with.

I’m Fixin’ to…

This phrase denotes a person’s desire to complete a task. Instead of saying, “I am getting ready to…, ” you could easily say “I’m fixin’ to…” The action could be anything from making a store run or going to bed.

Yes Ma’am (Sir)

Not just a Southern phrase, “Yes, ma’am” or “Yes, sir” is the only way to answer a yes question in the south. Usually, the requirement only extends to those that are your age or older with an emphasis on respecting your elders, but in general, the term can be used in conversation with someone of any age when a yes or no answer occurs.

Aren’t you precious

This sounds like a question, but more often then not, this is merely a statement to compliment something “cute” or “sweet.” More often than not, it is intended as an interjection and usually in reference to a child’s outfit or behavior. The term can also be used as a sarcastic expression of endearment for someone you don’t like.

Give me some sugar

Not literally passing the sugar, this phrase means “give me a kiss!” or a hug in some instances. Generally heard from grandma when she sees her grandbabies (another southern term), this phrase is used mostly among loved ones or in a flirtatious way between a couple.


It may refer to something that has been set in a “cater-cornered” position like your dresser that is backed diagonally into a corner. Furniture arrangement aside though, to say that someone’s household is “all catawampus” is a genteel way to state: “That family is a hot mess!”

Carry me the the [store]

Many a southern transplant has been confused the first time they heard this phrase. Carry me means ‘provide me with transportation to my destination.’ This phrase is not always used but it can be strange to hear if you are not raised in the South.

Madder than a wet hen

Ever notice how long chickens and birds in general spend preening their feathers? This phrase refers to the vexation that we imagine these birds to feel in the event that they are dunked in water. Remember, this expression is not used to call someone “mad” as in “crazy.” Instead, it’s a descriptive way to say that someone is very upset, and looks the part. After all, there’s nothing more pathetic than a disgruntled hen with sopping feathers.

Got your feathers ruffled

More bird imagery, this one is used to admonish another person to not get upset. The phrase comes from the now illegal practice of cockfighting where two roosters were pitted against one another for a fight the death. The South Carolina Gamecocks logo is a great example showing the ruffled feathers of an angry bird.

Stomping grounds

“Those are my old stomping grounds.” Say this when you are referring to an area in which you grew up or spent a lot of time. When used in the country, it means familiar territory, and you know the best places to fish and hunt. It can also be used to mean that you know all the best restaurants and hangouts in town.

Busy as a cat on a hot tin roof

Imagine how long a cat would stand a hot tin roof in the heat of summer in the South…that’s right, not even for a skinny minute. This one is just about self-explanatory, and it’s an affectionate Southern way of saying that someone is so busy that they never seem to stop and take a breath before they are moving on to another project. This is also a polite way to tell your sister that she needs to get her children under control before they tear your curtains down.

Did we miss any? Comment with your choices for an important southern phrase and share this article with your friends from other parts of the country/world so they won’t be confused the next time they visit.

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