How Well Do You Know Your American Idioms?

By: Torrance Grey
Image: Shutterstock

About This Quiz

It's a Southern thing ... a New England thing ... a California thing! Do you know your American figures of speech? Whether you're native-born or a well-traveled visitor to the States, you'll find something to challenge you in our quiz!

If someone agrees with you by saying, "Ayuh," where are you?

"Ayuh" is the classic expression of the New England countryside. Even though outsiders can learn to imitate it with some practice, don't use it in conversation unless you're a local.

Is it correct to call a single person "y'all"?

"Y'all" is short for "you all," and is plural. If your accent doesn't already mark you as a Yankee, calling a single person "y'all" will get it done.

If you get a drink of water at the "bubbler," where are you?

What most of the rest of the nation calls a "water fountain," Midwesterners call a "bubbler." Sounds like it should dispense Perrier!

In New England, you're not just smart, you're "______ smart."

"Wicked" is an adverb that intensifies the adjective that follows. "Jared's pit bull is wicked strong!"

In the South, if you intend to do something, you are ______ to do it.

Commonly pronounced "fixin' to," this means you're intent on getting something done. It doesn't have to be a hard task -- maybe you're just fixin' to go into town and have a beer.

Is it a good thing when a Southerner says, "Bless your heart"?

"Bless your heart" is a euphemism for "oh, you're no so bright, poor thing," or "oh, you've messed up again." Look for kindly aunts and grandmas to use this one a lot.

Where did the adverb "hella" originate?

This one came out of surfer and skater culture in northern California. There isn't much specifically Californian slang in this quiz, because it spreads so quickly to the rest of the country that it's not recognized as Californian. This is thanks to Hollywood, the music industry, and high-volume migration in and out of the state.

If you're asked to take off your "rubbah slippah" when you come in the house, where are you?

"Rubbah slippah" are what the contiguous 48 usually calls "flip-flops," and yes, the singular term stands for both shoes.

In New England, which of these expressions describes the worst degree of being lost?

We have to credit the charming little book "How to Talk Yankee" by Gerald E. Lewis and Tim Sample for this one. If you're a little lost, you got "turned around," moderately lost is "turned around some" ... but "some turned around" is REALLY lost.

What state gave the world "Valley Girl" slang in the 1980s?

All states have valleys, but California has the San Fernando Valley, near Los Angeles, where the mall-loving "Valley Girl" came from. Nowadays, we'd call her a "basic" girl, and she's not confined to one geographic region any more.

In the South, if you misbehave a lot, you are a _______.

A mildly disapproving older relative might say, "Boy, you *are* a caution." Less regional synonyms would be "handful" or "pistol."

Where do people frequently end sentences with "eh?"

Minnesotans and Wisconsites are prone to ending statements with this handy all-purpose word, especially in the rural northern parts of the state. It's a habit that seems to have drifted south from Canada, eh?

If you're in New Orleans and you get a "lagniappe," what have you gotten?

"Mr. Thibodeau offered me the job, and a dedicated parking space as a lagniappe. He must really need an assistant manager."

If "the devil is beating his wife," what is happening?

"The devil is beating his wife" is a term for a "sunshower" in parts of the South. Many parts of the U.S. have no specific phrase for this rare phenomenon.

What does "if the creek don't rise" mean?

This is another Southern idiom. Sometimes lengthened to "God willing and the creek don't rise ..." it means that if things go well, or according to plan.

The Southern phrase "as all get out" is a/an ....

This is like adding "as can be" to a description. If you're handsome, that's nice ... but if you're "handsome as all get out," parents should lock up their daughters!

In what state do they "talk story" instead of chat?

"Talking story" is equivalent to "shooting the breeze" or, sometimes, gossiping. It comes from Hawaiian creole.

An arrogant person is "too big for his _____."

"Britches" is an American corruption of the English word "breeches," meaning riding leggings or pants. Though breeches were only for men -- since women wore dresses and skirts back in the day -- nowadays a woman too can be "too big for her britches."

If you're "getting above your raisings," what is happening?

A person who is "getting above their raisings" might be putting on airs, neglecting old friends, or generally living in a way that is inauthentic to who they really are. This expression comes from the South.

Where is leaving the state called "going outside"?

For the rest of us, "going outside" means we're going to work in the yard or look at the stars. But in Alaska, it means you're travelling outside the state.

If you've been invited to a "potlatch," what part of the US are you likely in?

A "potlatch" is a get-together with food; the word is borrowed from the Chinook language. It resembles the word "potluck," but they don't seem to be etymologically related.

Where do you "pass a good time" instead of have a good time?

Cajun English renders a few things differently, including the expression "pass a good time." Which they love to do: You'll see the French expression "Laissez le bon temps roulez!" a lot in southern Louisiana.

"Gnarly," meaning difficult or fearsome, came from what part of the US?

"Gnarly" is a surfer term for big, intimidating waves. The word has spread around the world, wherever there are beaches and good surfing.

If you hear someone say, "Oh my heck!" what state are you likely in?

This is a distinctly Mormon saying, in place of "Oh my God." So if you hear it, you're likely in Utah -- which, outside Salt Lake City, is about 75 percent LDS (Latter-day Saints).

In the South, if you ask the waitress for a Coke, what are you asking for?

In the South, any sugary carbonated drink is a "Coke." In many places, they're still likely to have "RC," or Royal Crown cola, instead of Coca-Cola.

In which state are you most likely to hear "Uff da!"

"Uff da!" is a Swedish way of saying "Oh geez!" or "Good heavens!" Want to use the Norwegian variation? That'd be "Oj da!"

If someone has brought "hotdish" to your house, where are you?

In a region that turns into an icy tundra for nearly half the year, hot food is essential. So much so that it's spawned the catchall word "hotdish."

"Odelay," a greeting or expression of surprise, comes from which state?

"Odelay" is Central Valley/Southern California slang. It comes from "Orale!" the Spanish word that can mean, "What's up?" or "Whoa, look at that!"

If you've been invited to a fais-do-do, what are you going to?

"Fais-do-do" is a Cajun word for a dance party. You won't hear it much outside Louisiana.

If you've got a lot of something, you've got more than "_____ got little white pills."

In the 19th and early 20th century," Carter's little liver pills" were a patent medicine said to cure a variety of ailments. They were so common in stores, the phrase "more than Carter's got little white pills" sprung up to mean "a whole lot." Naturally, this expression is dying out thanks to several generations growing up without ever seeing the product on shelves.

If you've been worked too hard, you've been "rode hard and put away ____."

This comes from the time when saddle horses were used for transportation. It wasn't good practice to put your horse away "wet," meaning without rubbing them down and getting the sweat off them.

If a Southerner or Midwesterner "lit out," what did she do?

Example: "After graduation, Chester lit out for Dallas."

What does the Hawaiian phrase "da kine" mean?

Every dialect has at least one term that speakers will tell you is untranslatable. Then they immediately start trying at length to translate it. To understand "da kine," it's best to ask a Hawaiian, and be prepared for a lengthy answer.

Where do young people say, "That's a harsh realm, lamestain"?

A New York Times reporter famously fell for a ruse in which a source made up a fake "glossary" of Seattle grunge-scene terms. These included both "harsh realm" and "lamestain."

If you are advised to "stay woke" where are you?

Sadly, the rise of the Internet seems to be signaling the death of regional idioms. Instead of speaking in a regional dialect, in the future we're all likely to speak a "sociolect," with idioms determined by our culture. Hackers, surfers, alt-righters, fanfiction readers ... all these have their own terms that are used around the world.

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