Anatomy of Passive-Aggressive Southern Slang

By: Darius Thornton 


The American South. What lies south of the Mason Dixon Line is a bizarre, mystical, delightful, sweltering hot wonderland that sometimes feels like its own world. A world with its own distinct dialect and slang that can prove to be a headache to decipher for those who are not accustomed to it. Southerners have developed a reputation for being kind, sweet people, who are welcoming to visitors to both their homes and the South as a whole. This, “southern hospitality” is a longstanding stereotype that people have held about Southerners, especially in comparison to people from the North, who are seen as generally more rude and less polite. Though, as someone who’s lived in the South for my entire life, I’m here to tell you that isn’t entirely true. Behind those pleasantries and strange, nonsensical phrases, lies enough venom to put down a fully grown elephant.

We’ll start with one of the most well-known Southern sayings in, “Bless your heart.”  At first glance, it appears to be a genuine expression of thanks or even well wishes, depending on the situation in which it’s used. It is typically said by older women, which contributes to this way of thinking. While this can sometimes be accurate, this is not to be always taken at face value. What is said is not always what is meant Southerners tend to use this after someone has just made an idiotic mistake, said or done something profoundly stupid, or is rambling about something of no interest to the listener. This is no coincidence. Essentially, it’s used as a way to nullify any nasty thing that may come out of a Southerner’s mouth, or just a way to call someone an idiot without actually doing so. For example, “Honey, that’s not how you pick berries, bless your heart.” A similar saying, “I’ll pray for you,” is actually very different in actual meaning. It’s typically reserved for when someone wants to help someone else out of a situation, but can’t, so they resort to prayer to as “help.” In reality, it’s a polite way of saying, “Your goose is cooked, sorry I can’t help.” This can also mean that they aren’t willing to do whatever it is you’re expecting them to do to help and you’re on your own. Ouch.

It should be clear by now that Southern insults are sneaky. Blink, and you miss them.  By the time you realize what they really meant, the conversation has long since died. Take, “Thanks for sharing,” for example. If someone says this to you, they most likely found what you said to be of little consequence, idiotic or just plain offensive and are looking for a way to end the conversation without conflict. This is the ultimate, sarcastic, conversation killer. “Well isn’t that nice”, is similar, in that, it’s meant to end a conversation a Southerner has lost interest in the conversation while promptly exiting stage left. Now, to one of my personal favorites. “I’m just sayin’. No, not saying. Sayin’. This is basically a set-up phrase that comes right before a Southerner reveals to you their honest opinion on something. In other words, “Don’t take offense to this, the truth may hurt.” If you know you might not like what’s coming next, leave the conversation as soon as you hear this phrase, for the sake of your feelings.

Now to another wonder of the Southern dialect, backhanded compliments. Compliments that aren’t compliments at all. Ladies, this one pertains primarily to you. If a woman exclaims, “Oh, I couldn’t pull that off, but look at you,” she isn’t complimenting your outfit at all, she’s insulting it. Odds are, she hates it and thinks you look ridiculous, but she won’t say that, not directly anyway. If you listen closely, she’s telling you’d she’d never wear it and is wondering why you would either. Now this one can apply to both genders, but primarily to kids and teens. “Aren’t you cute?” “Aren’t you precious?” Neither of these is sincere. In fact, they find it amusing or “cute” how stupid you are after you said or did something really dumb, most likely. For the granddaddy of them all, “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?” If you’re ever struggling with a map or wandering around aimlessly and a Southerner notices your plight, best believe they will say this. It’s less of a question and more of a statement, “You guys have no idea what you’re doing.” Another stereotype is that they love to gossip, so you’ll definitely be the subject of a story around the dinner table when they go home that night, after they help you, of course.

In conclusion, while it is true that we Southerners are raised to be polite and have good manners, we aren’t as nice as people give us credit for. If one simply looks deep enough, they can see the true intent in the seemingly harmless drabble. Perhaps our counterparts up North are just more blunt with their feelings. If nothing else, they’ll let you know what they think. Though, down in the South, things are more layered than a sweet potato casserole. Perhaps, it’s because even when we’re insulting you, we want to be polite, to extend our hospitality, even if we are calling you an idiot to your face. After all, “God don’t like ugly.”



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