1. Bless your heart.
Possibly the king of backhanded compliments, this phrase strikes a fine balance between southern politeness and fuck you. You can’t count on most southerners to drop F-bombs everywhere — that’d be impolite — but if you hear this phrase uttered in the sweetest, most polite voice to grace the noonday heat (often repeated multiple times), someone is saying something loud and clear.
Synonyms: fuck right off
2. Fixin’ to.
If I’m fixin’ to do something, I’m about to do it. However, time (and numbers) are a little fuzzy in the south, especially if you’re down the road a ways (see below) from that big-city livin’ we call Montgomery or Birmingham. So maybe I’ll do it right now. Maybe I’ll do it in a few hours. But either way, I’m fixin’ to do it. Probably.
Synonyms: about to, getting ready to, thinking about maybe doing
3. Been a hot minute.
If it’s been a hot minute since I saw you, you’ve probably been gone a while. Again, time is weird in the south. Maybe we haven’t seen each other in a month or two. Maybe it’s only been a week. Either way, if it’s been a hot minute, I definitely remember interacting with you at some point, somewhere, in the mostly-recent past. Unless I thought about it wrong.
Synonyms: it’s been a little while
4. That dog won’t hunt.
Similar to horses, water, and making them drink, if a dog won’t hunt, it won’t hunt. You can’t magically give a dog a hunting instinct if it doesn’t have one. This is typically used by way of ideas, job prospects, or future-planning. If a relationship won’t work out, or if you’re looking for a good idea, it’s great to know what dogs hunt (what works) and which ones don’t.
Synonyms: predicting failure, bad idea
5. If you need something, just holler!
A classic southern phrase used in the service industry. Your waiter/waitress will often say this before they trounce off to service other customers. All they’re saying, politely, is, “if you need something, just ask”. They don’t actually want you to holler. Nobody does. So, don’t. Just flag your server down like you would in any other part of the world and ask for help.
Synonyms: ask if you need anything, I’m here to help!
6. Gone muddin’.
Mud is the southern equivalent of snow. Muddin’ is an activity usually involving a large pickup truck or a four-wheeler (ATV), mud, high velocity, and an alarming lack of safety gear. It’s on the list because, while it’s not a phrase, it’s something people regularly do. If we’ve just had a heavy rainfall, and someone you know has a huge pickup truck or a four-wheeler, don’t be surprised if they head off to play in the mud.
Synonyms: literally going to drive around like maniacs in the mud and then not wash our trucks for four weeks to show it off
7. Up the road a ways.
Like time, distance gets a little fuzzy in the south. If you’re asking for directions and you’re told that it’s “up the road a ways”, that’s anywhere from ten minutes to two hours in the vague direction indicated. Seek additional clarification.
Also, if someone is coming to meet you and they’re “up the road a ways”, that’s the equivalent to, “I’m that asshole who says I’m going to be five minutes late but I mean thirty. You should start whatever you’re doing without me.”
Synonyms: vaguely distant (within a very wide margin)
8. Bring me a “couple” of ‘em.
In other parts of the world, if someone requests a “couple” of something, they mean “two”. You know, a literal couple. If you bring back two of anything in the South when someone’s asked for a couple, you’re going to get confused looks about why you’re being so stingy with the goods. If you’re asked for a couple of beers from the store, bring back two or three six-packs just to cover your bases.
Synonyms: get me some of those, bring me a handful of snacks, quantifiably greater than two
9. You might have to smack him/her upside the head!
Usually, this is in relation to a child, a dog, or a sibling and intended for use as a (loving) form of correction. But sometimes, those assholes don’t listen, and the only way you’re going to get your point across is to smack them upside the head so that they sit still for a second and hear what you’re trying to say. This is used as a last resort when other reasoning and/or bargaining has failed. Also used as a threat (e.g. “Boy, you listen here, or I’m gonna smack you upside the head.”).
Synonyms: pay attention (or else!)
10. Growin’ up / shootin’ up like a weed.
Only in the south (where weeds roam free like cattle), is the weed used as a unit of measurement. If you know anything about weeds, you know that they spring up overnight in your garden. So do children (they only avoid the garden if you’re lucky), and other small things with an aim to get bigger. A notable increase in size will often earn this comment.
Synonyms: growing quickly, getting taller (since the last time I saw you), growth spurts
Bonus: The devil’s beating his wife!
This is said in direct reference to sunshowers — when it’s sunny outside but raining. It doesn’t have any contextual meaning for anybody, but it’s what you’ll hear.
Synonyms: It’s sunny, but raining, and that is very strange.