Bless your heart!
I’ve heard this phrase all my life. Many Southern women use it without ever knowing they’ve said it. It is an interjection like “Oh for Pete’s sake” or “Mother Mary and Joseph” that one hears often in the North.
The proper translation of the phrase is complex. Often it is necessary for the listener to observe visual clues given by the speaker. “Bless Your Heart” can be used to show sympathy, concern and affection; as well as pity, disapproval, or to deliver a verbal backhand. There really isn’t much subterfuge as many commentators suggest.
Who initiates a topic in which is granted a “Bless your heart“ is the key to the intended meaning. If the speaker makes an observation and follows with the phrase, it usually means sympathy, concern and affection.
“She likes her cocktails – bless her heart.” – Would likely be sympathy.
“Bless her heart, she enjoys cocktails.” – Shows concern, or affection.
On the other hand, if “Bless your heart” follows a statement by another person, the phrase is usually conveying pity, disapproval, or a verbal backhand.
Northerner: “I don’t understand the fuss about college football.”
Southerner: “Well, bless your heart” – This means: I regret your lack of manners.
Northerner: “Why is everyone dressed up for tailgating?”
Southerner: “Why, bless your heart.” This means: You should be easy to replace by the next game.
Northerner: “Southern food is just awful; I can’t find a good pizza anywhere.”
Southerner: “Why, bless your heart. I’ll help you pack.” This means: You are a freakin’ idiot.
Tim Heaton is a HottyToddy.com contributor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His new book, Bless Your Heart, You Freakin’ Idiot: Southern Sayings Translated is available on Amazon as well as “Momma n’ Em Said: The Treasury of Southern Sayings.