Can You Complete These Common Southern Phrases?

EDUCATION

Beth Hendricks

7 Min Quiz

Image: Juanmonino / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

Many people have a love affair with the South. Whether it's the warmer temperatures, the homestyle cooking or the abundance of popular sports teams, the South is renowned for having a culture all its own. But those aren't the only things for which the South is well known. Many might say that the South has its own unique vernacular or language – a way of speaking that is known only to those who grew up with it or have been around it long enough to "interpret" what's being said. 

Now, it's not like visiting a foreign country where you might hear, "Buenas noches" ("good evening," in Spanish) or "Bonjour" ("hello," in French). Instead, Southern speaking is a mixture of phrases and sayings that have evolved over time. Many, like "She's madder than a wet hen" or "He was a sight for sore eyes," may be said today by Southerners who don't even know how those phrases got their start. It's just a Southern thing! (By the way, don't worry if you don't either. We'll explain those and more as you work your way through the quiz that follows.) So, hitch up your trousers and don't pitch a hissy fit! Work your way through this quiz by completing the popular Southern saying and see whether you're a true Southern belle or gentleman or if you have more of a nose for the North. 



If something isn't worth much, a Southerner might say: It doesn't amount to ...

In the South, when something is small or insignificant, one might say "It doesn't amount to a hill of beans." Beans don't cost much and are relatively easy to grow, perhaps diminishing their perceived value. This saying is believed to date back as far as the mid-1920s and was famously quoted in the movie, "Casablanca," when Humphrey Bogart said, "Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."

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This might be said in pity or sarcastically: Bless your ...

Perhaps one of the most popular Southern expressions used today, a Southerner might utter "Bless his/her heart" after also saying something less than polite. For example, "Bless her heart but she's dumber than a box of rocks." The saying may also be used as a sincere expression of pity or sadness for something that has befallen an individual. In the South, if someone tells you their father is ill, a Southerner may genuinely respond with "Bless his heart."

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When Southerners talk about music, they might say: He can't carry a tune ...

Tell someone they can't carry a tune in a bucket in the South and you've just clued them in that they aren't a very good singer. Since most things can easily be carried in some type of a bucket, alluding to a person's inability to carry a tune even with the aid of a carrying device says they're pretty bad at it. This phrase also references the musical terminology of "carrying a tune," which means that the person is able to sing along with the song's melody.

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A Southerner who is sweet on you might say: Give me ...

If someone in the South tells you to "give me some sugar," you better oblige them with a peck on the cheek! "Give me some sugar" is another way of asking someone to give you a kiss – a reference to how "sweet" this display of affection is. This saying, though, has nothing to do with actual sugar - white or brown.

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Get in trouble in the South and you might hear this: That boy's too big ...

If you're deemed to be "too big for your britches" in the South, you better watch out - someone (maybe a mom or a grandma) is likely to show you the error of your ways. This saying, which Davy Crockett first published in a book in the 1830s, means that someone is conceited or has an overinflated opinion or him or herself.

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To prove you aren't naive, you might say this: I didn't just fall off ...

You're probably wondering, "What could this possibly mean?" In the South, when someone expresses that they didn't just fall off the turnip truck, what they're trying to say is that they're not gullible or uninformed. This saying likely originated from the use of the word "turnip" in the South to describe someone who isn't very smart.

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Suffer embarrassment in the South and they might say: He was caught with ...

Being caught with your pants down isn't to be taken literally. Rather, it means that someone was surprised or caught off-guard by something that happened. Generally speaking, if your pants are down, you're not expecting the incident that happens to happen. This Southern saying may also allude to a particularly embarrassing moment of being caught off-guard.

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This phrase shows similarity: Those girls are like ...

Referring to individuals as "two peas in a pod" is a way of saying that two people are very similar. This is likely due to how actual peas in a pod are virtually indistinguishable from one another. Their similarity has contributed to this beloved Southern saying, which may have originated as much as 200 years ago when it was used to describe two like-minded individuals in a book.

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Did they win the lottery? Someone might say: We're eating ...

Eating high on the hog in the South means you're doing really well - particularly when it comes to finances. The saying originates from the various cuts of a hog, where the pricier, more succulent choices come from the higher parts of the animal, with cheaper cuts of meat coming from the lower parts of the animal. If you could afford the pricier cuts of meat, you must be well-off financially or, eating high on the hog.

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If your grandma hasn't seen you for a while, she might say: You are a sight ...

Being a "sight for sore eyes" might sound painful, but in the South, this is actually a good thing. Whoever says this to you is happy to see you and perhaps hasn't seen you in a while. Maybe you've been away at college and your grandmother, upon seeing you at Christmas says, "Charlie, you are a sight for sore eyes. Come over here and give me a hug!"

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Eat too much and you might say this: I'm as full as a ...

You might think of this Southern saying as being a little gross, but being "full as a tick" does reference the small parasite that can attach itself to skin to draw out the host's blood. Being as full as a tick simply means you are full - but in this case, of food or beverages. You might hear this uttered at Thanksgiving or Christmas celebrations in the South.

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This phrase is a sure sign of disaster: Things went to ...

When something goes to "hell in a handbasket" in the South, you best believe that the situation is pretty bad and probably getting worse by the minute. For example, your day may go to hell in a handbasket after a project goes awry and you have to drop what you're doing to fix it. The origin of this phrase isn't well-known, but most people believe it was used simply because handbasket begins with an "H," offering alliteration with the word hell.

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Giving directions in the South might sound something like this: We're going ...

In the South, the word "yonder" is an official measure of distance. Need to tell someone how to get to the gas station? It's over yonder. Talking to a friend about going to your aunt's house? It's over yonder. "Yonder" derived from the Dutch word "ginder," which means "over there," and Southerners have been utilizing it ever since.

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This phrase is used to describe someone who's not happy: She just threw ...

If you're throwing a hissy fit, it means you are angry or outraged and letting everybody know about it. You may associate a hissy fit with the behavior of a child, which may be a good representation of the behavior of the person actually throwing the hissy fit. The word "hissy" seems to derive from the word "hysterics," which is an uncontrollable emotional reaction to something.

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When a Southerner sees someone angry: Boy, she is madder than ...

This phrase originated in the South and did actually involve hens and egg-laying. As a farmer would probably tell you, hens want to sit on the eggs they've laid until they've hatched and don't take kindly to farmers trying to collect them. In order to stop them from being broody, farmers would dunk the hens in water which, as you can probably imagine, made them pretty angry.

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A Southern's expression of good intent: Lord willing and ...

If someone in the South tells you "Lord willing and the creek don't rise," what they're indicating is that they'll make every effort to do whatever you've asked unless something unforeseen happens (like the creek rising, making travel impossible). This likely originated from the difficult travel conditions of the old South, where the flooding of a creek would make roads impassable. Today, it generally means that the speaker will do something unless some type of obstacle arises.

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This phrase may be used to describe an argumentative person: You could start an argument ...

Little is known about the origins of this one, but its meaning is pretty clear. If you can start an argument in an empty house, it simply means you're an argumentative type who would strike up a fight even if there was no one else there to fight with. Most of us, luckily, don't spend a lot of time arguing in an empty house - hopefully!

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When nerves get the best of you down South, they might say: He was as nervous as ...

Just think about it: If you carried a long tail around with you, wouldn't you be fearful of stepping or sitting in the wrong place for fear of your tail getting smashed? A long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs would be a nervous wreck, trying to avoid getting his tail pinched. Someone who is described in this way would be jumpy and apprehensive.

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Don't try to fool a Southerner or they might say: You can't make a silk purse ...

You've seen a pig's ear, right? Soft, pink and oh-so-cute, but how would it look as a fancy silk handbag? You wouldn't be fooling anyone. In the South, someone might utter this phrase when they see an individual trying to turn something ugly or worthless into something attractive or worthwhile. It simply will not work.

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Southerners have an interesting way of predicting the weather: It's comin' a ...

This one is a unique saying about the weather in the South. It may be used synonymously with, "It's comin' a gully-washer!" Both of these phrases simply mean that a heavy downpour of rain is headed your way. It will be enough rain to even strangle a toad, an animal known for its affinity to watery surroundings.

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This phrase might be used to describe someone who is confused: He's a lost ball ...

If a Southerner describes you as a lost ball in high weeds, he or she is saying that you don't know where you are or what you're doing. A lost ball in high weeds would be pretty hard to see or for the owner to find. Thus, an individual who has never used the internet before may be a "lost ball in high weeds" the first time he or she accessed the web.

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You might exaggerate how you're feeling with this Southern phrase: I'm as fine as ...

Let's be clear: Frogs don't have hair, which is why this Southern saying is so quirky. But the irony of the phrase is why Southerners like to use it. In the South, if you ask someone how they are, they might respond "finer than frog's hair," which means they are doing well or feeling good. This phrase is sometimes elaborated on as "finer than frog's hair and not half as slick" or "finer than frog's hair, but not half as dusty." All versions of this phrase are meant to be over-the-top answers to a simple question.

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If you've got it all crooked, someone might say: That thing is all ...

In the South, when something is described as being all cattywampus, the speaker is telling you that the item is crooked or misaligned. A picture hung on the wall of a Southern home might be cattywampus until it is adjusted. Some people believe the word originated from the Scottish "wampish," which means twisted or swaying about.

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This is a kind way of saying someone's not very bright: The porch light's on ...

Rest assured, this funny Southern phrase has nothing to do with a porch, a light OR a house. Instead, this is a Southerner's kind way of saying that someone is not very bright, aware or astute. In short, the "porch light" references a person being there physically, but by adding "nobody's home," the speaker is saying that the person is not very smart or observant.

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A Southerner might chastise you with these words: You can get glad ...

An old phrase frequently expressed by Southern mothers everywhere, telling someone to "get glad in the same pants you got mad in," simply means that person has the choice to turn a situation around from anger to happiness. It can also mean you have control over how you feel about a situation and can change it immediately (without having to "change pants" on a new day).

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I do declare! This statement is an expression of shock or surprise: Heavens to ...

"Heavens to Betsy" is an exclamation a Southerner might make when they are alarmed, excited or exasperated. This origin of this phrase is attributed to somewhere between 1850 and 1915 and is generally believed to be similar to any other exclamatory phrase, like "Oh, my goodness!" or "For heaven's sake!"

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This expression is used when someone hasn't seen you in a while: I haven't seen you ...

When someone in the South says it will take a "month of Sundays," they either mean it will take a really long time or won't happen at all. The origin of this phrase is believed to date back to the early 1800s when Sundays were a solemn day of church-going without any place for merriment or amusement.

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Southern moms likely use this one a lot: Straighten up or I'm going to ...

Most Southern children have likely been on the receiving end of this phrase, uttered from the mouths of frustrated mothers and fathers who threaten to "jerk a knot in your tail" if you don't start acting right. This phrase simply means you're going to be punished or corrected if you don't start behaving better.

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A Southern expression that shows how tough someone is: She is tougher ...

Have you ever tried to eat a $2 steak? Chances are that it came from a cheap cut of meat that's going to be difficult to chew. When someone or something is referred to in this manner in the South, it means it's going to be a difficult situation or person to deal with. Now-deceased former Senator John McCain was once described as being "tougher than a $2 steak" (or strong) while he fought a brain tumor.

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Grown much lately? A Southerner might say: He is knee-high ...

Typically said to children who have grown up, someone who is small or short may be referred to as being "knee-high to a grasshopper." Since grasshoppers are pretty small, the target of this Southern phrase would be even smaller. This is often said to growing youngsters who may not have seen a family member or friend for a while, who would then utter, "I haven't seen you since you were knee-high to a grasshopper," meaning they have grown a lot since.

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This phrase might be used to show multiple outcomes: There's more than one way ...

No one is really referencing skinning a cat in this common Southern phrase. Instead, it simply means there's more than one way to go about whatever it is you're doing. This saying dates back to the mid-1800s when an author, writing about digging for money, referenced the phrase as a way of saying there was more than one way to complete the goal.

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When something isn't going to happen in the South: That dog ...

An old Southern saying, "That dog won't hunt," really doesn't mean anything about a dog at all. It's a reference to something that just simply isn't going to happen. This phrase is a derivative of "that cock won't fight," when a rooster used in cock-fighting centuries ago just wouldn't fight. No amount of encouragement or persuasion could make it happen.

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A Southerner might describe someone's appearance using this phrase: He could eat corn ...

A Southerner might describe someone who has buck teeth as being able to "eat corn through a picket fence." This might be a kinder, though more comical way, to talk about an individual whose teeth are not as great as they could be. Having buck teeth means that you have an overbite that causes your teeth to protude outward.

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When you spend all day outside: He was gone ...

When a Southern talks about being gone "from can see to can't," he or she is referring to the time of day when you can just begin to see the world around you to the time of day when you can't see anything - essentially, sun up to sun down. A child might be referred to as playing outside from can see to can't.

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A busy Southerner might tell you: She was busier than ...

Have you ever been really, really busy? If so, it might be said in the South that you're busier than a one-armed paper hanger. This originates from the idea of hanging wallpaper - from applying paste to affixing it to the wall to smoothing away bubbles. Even with two arms, it's a very tricky task. A one-armed paper hanger would be even busier trying to keep up!

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