I was born and raised in New York and, until I reached my 40s, I had never lived more than 90 miles from the heart of “the city”, also known as Manhattan. Then, I followed my job to Durham, NC and found myself naively unprepared for the culture shock; language being one of the most immediately obvious differences. Growing up, I had seen episodes of the Andy Griffith Show, so I knew they spoke differently in the south. I just didn’t expect they would still be watching that show and still speaking that way.
Over the (20+) years I’ve lived here, I have come to appreciate many things about this area. The genteel ways have won me over and I now enjoy many of the southern colloquial, linguistic quirks. Mind you, I actually never find myself saying them — all my attempts at “y’all” still come out as “all you guys” — but I like these funny and sometimes corny phrases; they make me smile when I hear them. Here are my favorite “southernisms”, things that would never come out of a New Yorker’s mouth.
Don’t get ugly now
Sadly, having more than my share of sarcasm, I heard this quite often. It is a mild way to chastise someone for snarky or off-color comments. I hear it ringing in my ears every day as I read through comments on social media. Sometimes, I wish the whole world would be a little less ugly.
You’re too kind
This is a generic, polite response to a compliment. It shocked me at first. In NY, if someone said they liked your shoes, you might say “thanks” and then often go into a disparaging story about them, maybe where you got them or what they cost…blah blah blah. How sweet and simple this is instead.
My daddy’s daddy
We always called this person grandpa, grandfather, gramps, papa. I think this term is endearing, intimating affection passed down through the generations, and it’s clear which side of the family he’s on. The variations follow form: daddy’s mamma, mamma’s mamma, etc. (Of course, “my baby’s daddy” is a whole other thing.)
Although we had large families with lots of relatives, we never called them kin. I was stumped when I first heard this, especially because “kin” sounded like “keen”. I now know that “he’s kin to me” means he’s family, a relative, related to you…probably by blood. Definitely, your daddy’s daddy is kin.
It would never pass in English class but it’s a succinct way to express a double possibility or possibility squared, as in “I might could do that”…. but it’s not very likely. By itself, I find it quaint; but with “reckon”, it crosses over the top. I reckon that might could make someone sound like a hillbilly.
Sir? or Ma’am?
When used as a one-word question, this means someone didn’t hear you and wants you to repeat what you just said. This was a real mystery; I missed it numerous times before I realized that it is the southern way of saying “What?” ”Huh?” or more politely “Sorry, I didn’t get that.”
Regional expressions should be enjoyed and respected; they give a place its own rich character. To my own surprise, when I finally acclimated to the southern vernacular, it became charming. It sure beat hearing the f-bomb three times in every sentence! And, to everyone’s benefit, it has made me more aware of my own speech habits. Vive la différence!