Can You Untangle These Regional Mix-Ups?

Be careful what you ask for!

Travel across the United States, and you’ll discover that some words have vastly different meanings by region. Order greens in a restaurant up North, and you’ll be served a salad. But in the South, you’ll get a side order of cooked collard greens. It's easy to get confused! Check out this list of perplexing regionalisms before you cross state lines. 

Fixing

If you tell your Northern friends you’re busy fixing something, they’ll understand you’re working on your car, or mending something that’s broken. In the South, fixing— or fixin'—means getting prepared for action. You can be fixin’ for trouble, or maybe just fixin’ breakfast with your family. Grits, anyone?

Buggy

A buggy in the North refers to a horse-drawn cart, like the ones used by the Amish in Pennsylvania. In the South, shopping carts are adorably referred to as buggiesNationwide, shopping cart is the most common term for a wheeled contraption used for groceries. In the Midwest, though, it’s often called a basket or wagon, and a carriage in New England.

Dressing

Craving something zesty to mix in with your salad? In the North, simply request dressing from your waitress. But ask for dressing in the South, and you’ll get a bread-based side dish, similar to Thanksgiving stuffing.

Southerners will take exception to that description. To them, stuffing is cooked in a bird, and dressing is baked in a pan. To get a topping for your salad in the South, you need to specify “salad dressing.”  

Bless your heart

In the North, bless your heart is a sincere endearment. But be careful when saying this down South, where it’s a condescending way of calling someone an idiot. It’s also used to soften an insult, such as, “He’s too dumb for his own good, bless his heart.”  

Dope

The term dope refers to getting some inside information on a juicy story. Regionally speaking, in the North, dope typically refers to marijuana, or something really awesome. But in parts of the South, asking for dope will get you toppings for your ice cream! It can also mean chocolate syrup to dessert lovers down South.

BBQ

Most anywhere in the country—except the South—BBQ (short for barbecue or barbeque) refers to anything cooked on a grill, even veggies.

Southerners will tell you that BBQ only means slow-cooking meat for several hours. And every Southern state, city, county and town claims it makes the best! (Hint: great tasting BBQ depends on the marinade and wood.)

Tea

In the South, tea is considered a quintessential Southern drink. Although there are regional differences, it’s an icy, sweet—very sweet—beverage. Ask for unsweetened tea, and everyone will know you’re an out-of-towner.

If you order tea in a Northern restaurant, you’ll probably get a hot beverage. However, consumer research indicates that ice-cold sweet tea is quickly gaining popularity nationwide.

Bet

In the North, a bet refers to something you wager on. In the South, if you say “bet,” it means “I agree,” short for “you bet” or “you betcha.” But don’t worry, there’s no shortage of gambling opportunities in Southern states like Louisiana and Florida.

Sugar

Ask for sugar in the North, and you’ll get a sweetener to put in your coffee or tea, or perhaps a 5-pound bag for baking. Ask for sugar in the South, and you might just get a kiss. Sugar (pronounced without the ‘r’ sound) is also slang for sweetheart, but can alternatively be used as a codeword for cocaine. Stick to the sweet tea, kids!

People

Up North, people refers to everyone. That’s pretty obvious, right? But in the South, the word is frequently paired with “my” as a way of referencing your family, close friends or posse.

While we’re at it, if you address a group of people in the North, you’re likely to say, “hey, guys” even if the group includes gals. But in the South, it’s “y’all,” which is non-gender-specific. Who knew old-time slang could be so progressive?