Southern Scribe
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 Celebrating Our Culture   



Southern Phonics

by Cathy Rogers



I am a southerner from the moment of my birth.  Born more than forty years ago in Norcross, Georgia (near Atlanta), I have lived in only two states:  Georgia and Tennessee.  Like most native southerners, I mispronounce a few words, stretch some monosyllabic words into longer ones, and blur the syllables of other words.  When I listen to my elder relatives, I can usually pick up some expression that has “gone by the wayside” over the generations.  But even taking all of this into consideration, I am still occasionally shocked, and/or amused, by some of the things I hear. 

In the South, we sometimes have a difficult time with the correct terminology in relation to body parts and medical conditions.  A commonly injured area of the shoulder is frequently referred to as a “rotary cuff” or even “rotator cup.”  A bad cold might be diagnosed as “catarrh of the head.”  And someone with a back injury might have a “peenched” nerve.  I’ve even heard of a “threadmill” test for determining heart function. 

When providing directions, we might refer to a location as “right AT the house,” which means not far from home.  Or a new business might be where Wal-mart “used to be.”  And sometimes what you are searching for is “futher” down the road “a piece.” 

We “flat out” make up some words.  Large objects are referred to as “humungous;” and when we record a check, we “stub” it.  Signs instruct what is “supposed” to be done, as opposed to what should be done.  There are “bob-wire” fences and “sweet,” not sweetened, tea. Our important papers are kept in a “lock box” (Al Gore- style). 

Of course, we occasionally double up on the negatives.  A waitress might declare that the kitchen “ain’t got no nothing left” of the day’s special. And we may get “hung up” on a word:  Scooter done done that.   Apparently we need our own Southern “spell-check” by the looks of this essay. 

Southern expressions are quite colorful, too.  A rowdy child might be referred to as acting like “a worm in hot ashes.”  Your friend from high school might now look like either “death eating a moonpie” or “death eating a fudgesicle.”  Which expression you choose would depend on the county in which you were raised (not reared).  Dark brown eyes might be described as “dark as chinky-pins” (chinquapins). And we sever other grammatical rules by ending a sentence with a preposition: “Just where is it at?”  And if we aren’t sure we heard you correctly, we might respond, “Do what?”  When you finish a phone conversation, someone nearby might ask, “Well, what did he/she allow?” 

Names themselves are unique in the South.  “Yvonne” could be pronounced “yuh-von” or even “y-von.”  “Jerry” is “jur-e” and “Cheryl” is “shurl.”  “Mike” is so often pronounced “Mack” that some men named such choose to go by Michael instead. 

You will occasionally her older Southerners comment on your earbobs (earrings) and the most frequent expression of gratitude, even among the younger generations, is “’ppreciate ya.” 

One habit that has especially amused me (until I caught myself doing it) is to refer to one’s significant other or spouse as he or him, rather than using that person’s name. But what can you expect from a girl who was born in Hotlanta and has lived for over twenty years close enough to “Dollywood” to “throw a rock at it?” 

Cathy Rogers is a mother, wife, former teacher, and current freelance writer from East Tennessee. She may be reached at Her interests include scrapbooking, volunteer work, and an English bulldog named Samantha.


© 2005, Cathy Rogers, All Rights Reserved