How to Talk Southern

A Guide to those who “ain’t from round here.”

It may come as a surprise to some that a “Southern Drawl” is the way people really talk in “these parts” and not just a way for pretentious Hollywood types to get cheap laughs in an evening sitcom. There is, however, no reason to be intimidated by the natives here. They really do talk slowly, which is a help (as long as you don’t laugh).


I have enjoyed an amused life here in the South from birth and not suffered from the experience. My wife has grown to be loved and admired by all for her ability to speak the language almost as if she were a native. With this handy guide should be able to “git along jes’ fin” (do quite well) yourself.


The most important word to “larn” (learn) is the ubiquitous “y’all”, pronounced “yawl”, using as many syllables as you can draw out of four letters. Y’all is technically both the singular and plural form of the second person pronoun, you, in the King’s English. It can be used more liberally (a word to be used thoughtfully, by the way), such as in seeking another’s attention, when it might seem rude to simply say, “Hey you!”


Please do not be confused by derivative forms you may hear of the word y’all. Those who make careers out of studying language have tried without avail to distinguish y’all from “you all” (an optional form for use in referring to more than one “you”) and the less common “all y’all” (a version for use in reference to larger numbers or to a group that may not all be present at the time).


So, if someone says, “Y’all are welcome to come,” you should consider that a genuine invitation (Southern hospitality is as real as “Co-Cola” – No, don’t dare ask for a Pepsi). If they say, “All y’all come,” you should feel free to invite friends and family, particularly if they have more than one first name, like “Billy Bob” or “Peggy Sue”. (Hyphenated last names are looked on with skepticism here, perhaps because of the fear that if cousins married one might end up being “Jolene Jones-Jones.”)


Another well-used term is the much-maligned contraction for the words “am not”, the ubiquitous “ain’t.” An example of common usage might be, “We ain’t had that much fun since the hogs got in the hornet’s nest.” Related and equally useful contractions you may hear are “wern’t” for “were not” (which is pronounced much like “rurnt”, though that term is used to describe good bait when made into sardines.


A related term to listen for is “t’wern’t”, which means, “there were not”. The words “did” and “you” are often formed into the contraction “d’jew” and should not be considered a reference to one’s family history, which, by the way, most Southerners consider a matter of pride, so long as no direct ancestors can be traced to Alabama. For entertainment, you might try using contractions of your own making and see if the locals recognize them.


You may be confused by the word “fixin’”, though in the context of slow Southern life, it has a special place in the parlance. To say that one is “fixin’” to do something is not unlike a husband on the couch telling his wife he is going to mow the grass. Fixin’ to go to town means simply thinking about it and does not imply that one should get the hounds in the truck. If you happen to hear the related term, “goin’ to”, it may have no relation at all to a destination at all and more to do with an intended act at some, as yet unplanned, future time.


Unlike the Eskimos, Southerners have no real word for “snow”, but a great many ways of saying, “guess”. One can “reckon”, “figure”, or “thank”, all of which show that we from the South are thoughtful in more than just our hospitality. “Hail”, which you may here, is not a form of precipitation, but rather where Yankees go when the die.


You may find yourself served with “greens”. These are not part of a golf course, but a bitter vegetable eaten by Southerners only in the presence of unsuspecting Northerners, who are smilingly offered generous helpings. Turnip greens and black-eyed peas are traditionally served on New Years Day as an augury of good luck for those who survive the experience.

For many more insights, and a great deal of humor, I recommend The Liberal Redneck Manifesto, by a trio of Southern humorists.  Read it and weep a few tears of laughter.




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