The magic of Southern speech is in the similes and metaphors and other allusions. These techniques are the yellow highlighter of conversation.
Could one communicate without the color commentary? Sure, one could live on bread and water too, but in the South there is no need. Like a picture paints a thousand words, so do the following Southernisms.
As country as Corn Flakes.
Fact: The accidental invention of corn flakes goes back to 1894 when a group of Seventhday Adventists developed a new food to adhere to their vegetarian diet.
As slick as cat’s poop on linoleum.
Fact: Linoleum was invented by Englishman Frederick Walton. In 1855, Walton happened to notice the rubbery, flexible skin of solidified linseed oil (linoxyn) that had formed on a can of oil-
based paint, and thought that it might form a substitute for India rubber.
As welcome as an outhouse breeze.
Rather than: Knee deep and sinking fast.
Barefooted as a yard dog.
Rather than: Since ditching shoes, I no longer suffer from foot odor.
Better than a sharp stick in the eye.
Fact: Your eye is about the size of a gum ball, and the lens the size of an M&M.
Bleeding like a stuck pig.
Fact: To avoid tainting the meat, the throat of a pig to be slaughtered is cut by severing the jugular vein
Bowed up like a Banty rooster.
Note: Bantams are about 1/4 the size of a “regular” chicken and are bred for cockfighting.
Brave as a bigamist.
Fact: In the Maldives, bigamy is permitted for anyone, most other Middle Eastern countries require you be a Muslim.
Brave as the first man to eat an oyster.
Fact: Scientists exploring a cave in South Africa report evidence of shellfish dinners enjoyed by humans who lived 164,000 years ago.
Brave enough to eat in the boomtown saloon.
Note: The “free lunch” was offered to attract customers who had to purchase at least one drink. The term first appeared in the 1870s.
By the skin of my teeth.
Note: The phrase first appears in English in the Geneva Bible, 1560, in Job 19:20, which provides a literal translation of the original Hebrew:” I haue escaped with the skinne of my tethe.” (sic)
Clean as a hound’s tooth.
Note: Contrary to myth, a dogs’ mouth is equally dirty as humans.
Cooler than the other side of the pillow.
Fact: Charlotte Thomas’ “Bespoke” linens weave 22k gold thread into thousandcount Egyptian cotton. A set goes for around $2,400.
Country as a baked bean sandwich!
Note: Add a big slice of onion, and stay home for the evening.
Dark as a sack of black cats.
Note: Most of Europe considers the black cat a symbol of bad luck, except for the Scots. Go figure.
Dark as the inside of a cow.
“My wife was afraid of the dark… then she saw me naked and now she’s afraid of the light.” – Rodney Dangerfield
Deaf in one ear and can’t hear out of the other.
“A good marriage would be between a blind wife and a deaf husband.” – Michel de Montaigne
Even a blind man on a galloping horse could see it.
Meaning: So obvious it could not be missed.
Flashy as a rat with a gold tooth.
Meaning: Ostentatious, showy and a bit too flashily dressed.
Flatter than a fritter.
Note: A “fritter” is a pancake made with corn meal.
Forty going north.
Meaning: Into middle age. Listen to Jimmy Buffett’s “Pirate Looks at Forty.”
Going at it like killing snakes.
Meaning: To do something with a great deal of energy.
Good enough for state work.
Meaning: Do the job just good enough.
Green as a gourd.
Fact: One of the earliest domesticated the bottle gourd has been discovered in archaeological sites dating from as early as 13,000 BC.
Grinning like a possum eating a sweet potato.
Note: Possums eat just about anything they can catch, or that has expired. A sweet potato would be a sweet treat.
He ain’t sawing logs, he’s clearing brush.
Meaning: Snoring loudly.
He looked like a pig on ice.
Meaning: Funny and ungraceful.
He talks like he’s got a mouthful of mush.
“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” – Robert McCloskey
He thinks he’s the best thing since sliced bread.
Fact: Bread has been used since the 17th century to clean the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Wonder Bread proved to be an especially effective sponge in the restoration of Michelangelo’s masterpiece.
He thinks the sun come up just to hear him crow.
Note: Why roosters seem to love to crow anytime, including mornings, isn’t fully understood.
He was so fat it was easier to go over top of him than around him.
Fact: The average American male weighs 191 pounds.
He was the turd in the punchbowl.
Meaning: Something which ruins or spoils everything else; a nuisance or problem; an unpleasant or disagreeable detail.
He’s so deaf, he can’t hear himself fart.
Note: Say what you want about deaf people.
He’s so scared you couldn’t drive a wet watermelon seed up his butt with a sledge hammer.
Rather than: So scared, the heads in the fridge begin to chant.
He’s so thinskinned, it’s just barely enough to keep him from bleeding to death.
Note: Why is it so hard for women to find men that are sensitive, caring, and good-looking? Because those men are already taken.
He’s scratched up worse than a blind berry picker.
Fact: Blackberry tea was a cure for dysentery during the Civil War; during outbreaks, temporary truces were declared to allow soldiers to go “blackberrying.”
He’s so country he thinks a seven-course meal is a possum and a sixpack.
Note: An old recipe goes: roast possum with a brick. When the possum is done, throw it away and eat the brick.
Heavier than a dead preacher.
Rather than: Heavy as a boardinghouse dumpling.
I bought it for a song and you can sing it yourself.
Meaning: I bought it cheaply and will prove it.
I don’t know her from Adam’s housecat.
Note: This expression has so long been a familiar idiom that people have felt the need to make it more emphatic. Speakers in various parts of the US have at times commented they don’t know somebody from Adam’s housecat, Adam’s brother, Adam’s foot, and Adam’s pet monkey.
I was never like this until I was born.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” Mark Twain
I was stuck hub deep to a Ferris wheel.
Fact: The original Ferris Wheel was designed and constructed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. as a landmark for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
I’m just hanging out like a hair in a biscuit.
Meaning: A little out of place.
I’m out like a fat kid in dodgeball.
Note: Dodge ball is played the collegiate level in Europe.
I’m prouder of that than a pup with his first flea.
Fact: Fleas feed once every day or two, and generally remain on their host during the interim.
It was hanging open like a peacoat sleeve.
Note: A “peacoat” is tailored from “pilot cloth” – a stout, twilled blue cloth with the nap on one side. Then Pcloth, Pjacket – later a pea coat.
It’s a right far piece from here.
Meaning: Closer than East Jesus, yet farther than yonder.
It’s plain as a pig on a sofa.
Note: The phrase is attributed to Flannery O’Connor
It’s quieter than a mouse peeing on cotton.
Note: A great gray owl can hear a mouse peeing on cotton 60 feet away.
It’s more than I can say grace over.
Note: The word ‘grace’ literally means ‘favor’ In Hebrew.
Just a hop skip and a jump.
”Traveling is like flirting with life. It’s like saying, ‘I would stay and love you, but I have to go; this is my station.” – Lisa St. Aubin de Terán
Knee high to a grasshopper.
Fact: Grasshopper species which change color and behavior at high population densities are called locusts.
Like a garlic milkshake.
Meaning: Smooth and strong.
Like a polecat at a camp meeting.
Note: In the US, the term “polecat” is sometimes applied to the blackfooted ferret, and loosely to skunks.
Like a popcorn fart in Hell.
Meaning: I’m being ignored. A popcorn fart is dry and nonodiferous.
Like a rooster in an empty henhouse.
”Expectation is the mother of all frustration.” – Antonio Banderas
Like a rubber nosed woodpecker in a petrified forest.
Meaning: Frustrated. Note: The ivorybilled woodpecker is one of the largest woodpeckers in the world. It was native to the southeast, but may now be extinct.
Long as a month of Sundays.
Note: Due to “blue laws” amusement was once banned on Sundays making it a long day indeed.
Looks greener than gooey gourd guts.
Note: The “g” sounds are nearly as funny as “k” sounds.
Looks like Hell with everyone out to lunch.
Note: One of the author’s all-time favorites.
More fun than a sackful of kittens.
”Work is more fun than fun.” – Noel Coward
More than one way to skin a cat.
Note: From the mid1800. From the phrase, “Like trying to skin a live cat.”
No higher than corn and no lower than taters.
Meaning: The answer to “How do you want the fence post dug?” About 18′ down and 60′ up.
Now we’re cookin’ with gas!
Meaning: we’re making good progress.
Over yonder at the edge of nothing.
Meaning: The edge of the world, “look out you’re going to fall off,” far.
Pert near, but not plumb.
Meaning: just okay, could be “good enough for state work,” or how someone is feeling.
Rough as a cob.
Note: In earlier times, a corncob was used by some for personal hygiene conducted in the outhouse.
Rougher than a pulp wood truck in a cotton patch.
Note: Pulp wood trucks are rough riding and usually noisy.
Scarce as a hen’s teeth.
Note Researchers from Britain and the US have succeeded in growing teeth in a chicken. Watch for another government funding study on why anyone would want to.
Scarce as deviled eggs after a church picnic.
Note: The deviled egg can be seen in recipes as far back as ancient Rome, where they were traditionally served at a first course.
Scattered from Hell to breakfast.
From here to East Jesus.
Screamed like a mashed cat.
Rather than: Screamed like an 8th lived mashed cat.
Sharper than a mother-in-law’s tongue.
Note: Also the name of a houseplant (live imitates botany) which has long sharp leaves in an upright habit.
She didn’t say “pea turkey squat.”
Note: the term “Pea turkey” is a southernism meaning “nothing” or “zero”.
She was so tall she could hunt geese with a rake.
Note: Geese have been recorded at 29,000 feet. That would be a tall drink of water.
She’s so deaf, she can’t hear a fart in a jug.
Note: Why do farts smell? So Deaf people may enjoy them too.
Slapped him like a redheaded stepchild.
Note: Red head assumes that neither of the parents had that gene.
Slick as an eel.
Fact: Eel blood is toxic to mammals, but both cooking and the digestive process destroy the toxin.
Slick as snot on a goat’s glass eye.
Note: Goat’s glass eye refers to those used in taxidermy.
Slicker than a chased greased hog.
Fact: In Minnesota, pig wrestling is a misdemeanor.
Slicker than deer guts on a door knob.
Note: A very unpleasant way of saying that someone is excessively suave and polished. This can be used in either a derogatory or a neutral sense.
Slicker than otter snot.
Meaning: Often used to describe wintery conditions.
Slicker than snot and smashed bananas.
Note: It turns out that banana skins are, indeed, very slippery. The average coefficient of friction of a banana on linoleum was 0.066. I have no idea what this means. This ain’t a science book.
Smaller than a tick turd.
Note: Tick and flea “dirt” is feces, which appears on your pet in small, dark clumps.
Smiling like a goat in a briarpatch.
Meaning: This phrase is used when somebody is up to no good and trying to hide it.
Smoother than a hairy chest on wax day.
Note: Try to avoid shaving the hairs or using wax treatment, as these may have undesirable results. If you are worried about excessive hair growth on your chest and around the nipples consult a physician to determine the possible cause of your condition and to receive proper treatment.
So deep in jail he’ll have to be fed beans with a slingshot!
Note: Jörg Sprave fired a 1inch steel ball with an armbraced slingshot, at a speed of 207 feet per second for a world record.
So sore can’t touch it with a powder puff.
Note: Powder puffs have been made of very fine down feathers, cotton, and fine fleece.
Sober as a judge.
Meaning: Not as drunk as a lord.
Squirming like a worm in hot ashes. (Or a hot brick)
Meaning: An uncomfortable situation.
Stout as a mule.
Fact: Mules have denser muscling than horses due to their donkey parent and therefore can carry more and go farther than a horse of the same size.
Strong as bear’s breath.
Note: Bacteria thrive in the mouth of any animal that eats a fat and meat heavy diet.
Stuck so badly I needed a four wheel drive helicopter to pull my truck out.
Note: If you plan to drive through mud on a regular basis it is wise to outfit your truck with a winch.
Tail up and stinger out.
Meaning: Ready to go!
Tender as a judge’s heart.
Fact: The three toughest courtroom judges in 2014 are women. From Detroit. Go figure.
That is just the cat’s pajamas.
Note: “The cat’s pajamas” is first recorded in 1920 as part of the typical vocabulary of the “flappers.”
That kid ain’t kneehigh to a duck.
Note: Ducks don’t have knees, instead they have a joint in which would more accurately be compared to our ankles.
The personality of a dishrag.
Note: Do not use a dishrag or cloth while cooking because you will recontaminate your hands.
There were so many people, you couldn’t stir ’em with a stick.
Fact: Dharavi slums, Mumbai, India is 770,000 people per square mile, and the most densely populated place on earth.
They could worry the horns off a billy goat.
Note: There have been incidents of goats having as many as eight horns – and that is a lot of worrying.
They live so far out they have to pipe in sunshine.
Fact: The orange juice company Tropicana created what looks like a sun in the middle of the night in a small Arctic town in Inuvik, Canada
They lived so far out in the country that the sun set between their house and town.
Note: This town would have to be no closer than on the moon.
Thick as flies on a dog’s back.
Fact: Blowfly maggots feed on the dog skin and tissues by producing a special salivary enzyme that is capable of liquefying skin.
Thicker than fiddlers in Hell.
Note: From the Charlie Daniels song, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.”.
Weak as dishwater.
Meaning: Arousing little interest.
We’re closer than two roaches on a bacon bit.
Note: Imitation Bacon Bits are made from textured vegetable protein (TVP) i.e. soy beans.
Whiter than a hound dog’s tooth.
Note: The houndstooth fabric is a duotone textile pattern made famous by Bear Bryant.
Wound tighter than a three-day clock.
Written on the heel.
Meaning: It was to be.
You can’t sling a cat without hitting one.
Meaning: “Common.” Note: This phrase is probably nautical from “catonine tails”, i.e. a whip.
You look like something the cat dragged in and the kittens didn’t want.
Note: Two teaspoons of whiskey can cause a 5pound cat to get comatose. Why anyone would waste whiskey on a cat is beyond me.
You’re so blind you could miss a crawdad playing cards with Ray Charles.
Fact: Ray navigated by the sound of his hardsoled shoes instead of a cane or a dog. He passed in 2004.
You’re swinging that driver like a washer woman.
Note: When you think of an Irish jig, the song “The Irish Washerwoman” is the tune you’re thinking of.
Tim Heaton is an Ole Miss Alumnus from Southaven, Mississippi who supports The Flagship in a variety of public relations efforts. He is a contributing writer to HottyToddy.com and actively volunteers his technical, database and social media expertise to several community service organizations in his current home in Morristown, New Jersey and in his home state of Mississippi. He has been awarded over a dozen US Patents in technology and is also a published author, chef and physical fitness enthusiast.