Well, because we talk differently around here. And Southerners fully accept and take pride in our idioms. It’s how we recognize one another, like a not-so-secret handshake. Plus, Southern people relish being just a little bit different. It’s like Julia Sugarbaker said on “Designing Women”: “We’re proud of our crazy people. We don’t hide them up in the attic. We bring ’em right down to the living room and show ’em off.”
You’ll hear us talk, a lot. We are a chatty people. You might say we’re nosy or we tend to talk your ear off, but we’re just curious and want to know more about you so we can help you feel at home. “Where are you from? Where’s your mama’s family from? Oh, I know people/have relatives/once drove through there! Would you look at that, we have something in common. Why, we’re practically related! C’mon, let’s get a cool drink and talk about it.” That’s how Southerners network.
We talk slowly, too—some people might call it a drawl, but we just like to linger on our syllables and enjoy the musicality of language.
Our vocabulary, too, sets the rhythm and cadence of how Southerners speak. Here are a few terms you may not be familiar with; once you learn them, your stay in Atlanta might become a little more enjoyable:
Comings and Goings
Hey: A friendly greeting, as in “Hi!” Commonly pronounced “hay.”
Fixin’ to: Preparing to do something or go somewhere. “I’m fixin’ to head over to the general session. Want to come?”
Directly: An estimation of time, which can range from a few minutes to a few hours. “I’ll check over that report directly.”
Carry: To transport someone to another location, but not in your arms. “The shuttle bus is here; can we carry you back to your hotel?”
Mash the button: What you do in an elevator to go to another floor.
Cut on/off: To flip a switch to turn room lights on or off.
Bless your heart: Either a verbal pat on the back (though whoever’s saying it in that context will probably hug the recipient, too) or a subtle jibe. “Joe got lost on his way to the Masters Series session. He couldn’t find his way out of a flour sack, bless his heart.”
What ’n all: An excellent illustration of Southerners’ tendency to add emphasis by elongating a word—in this case, to emphasize “lots of little things.” “What ’n all did you pick up in the exhibit hall?”
Carry on: To vocalize discontent with a situation. “She was carrying on to the restaurant owner about her food being cold.”
Conniption fit: A display of anger and frustration that is usually “pitched.” “He pitched a conniption fit when he kept losing the Internet connection on his iPad.”
Losing my religion: You can’t talk about conniption fits in Atlanta without referencing this phrase, made famous by Georgia’s own band, R.E.M. To say someone is making you lose your religion is to say he has annoyed the ever-livin’ bejeezus out of you and you have just had it.
Hug your neck: An expression of gratitude, though it might sound a little threatening. “Thank you so much for carrying my suitcase. I could just hug your neck!”
Food and Drink
Grits: Ground-up corn cooked in water and served up like oatmeal or porridge, usually at breakfast but sometimes during dinner, too. An excellent conveyance for butter, cheese or shrimp.
Country ham: Salt-cured ham best eaten with a biscuit and a tall glass of sweet iced tea. You’ll probably wake up at 3 a.m. for a glass of water—it is quite salty—but this is about the best thing you could ever choose to eat.
Red-eye gravy: Pan sauce made from mixing black coffee and the drippings left from frying country ham, often served over grits and a biscuit. If you have a plate of this for breakfast, you won’t need to eat again until noon the next day.
Co-Cola: Common pronunciation of the soft drink Coca-Cola. And yes, around here it’s “soft drink,” not “pop” or “soda.” Also, you may be asked, “Would you like a Co-Cola?” And if you say yes, the follow-up query might be, “What kind?” Coca-Cola is such a ubiquitous drink around here that it essentially means “soft drink” to most people, just as “Kleenex” means “tissue.”
Supper/dinner: Supper is the evening meal, and dinner is what you eat around noon.
Meat and three: What you eat at dinner, or supper at a diner, where you have your choice of meat (fried chicken, country-fried steak, fried shrimp, fried catch of the day) plus your choice of a heavenly multitude of three side dishes—including vegetables of all sorts, macaroni and cheese, yeast rolls or biscuits, french fries and, more than likely, a congealed salad (which is fruit and Jell-O, but no one ever calls it that).
Source: Beth Mirza, senior editor for SHRM Online, was born and raised in southern Virginia.