Sizzling Southern Sayings

Well, I declare!

In Gone With the Wind, Scarlett O’Hara says: “I do declare, Frank Kennedy, if you don’t look dashing with that new set of whiskers!”

Well, we declare there are plenty of colorful Southern idioms, some of which have become common terms nationwide, such as “hold your horses” and “pretty as a peach.” But you’ll likely only hear the following idioms in the South or from Southerners.

That thing is all catawampus

What’s catawampus? It’s typically used to describe a situation that’s gone askew, awry or out of alignment.

Curiously, this word might have roots in offbeat British humor from the 1840s. Catawampus (or, cattywampus) may have been popularized by Brits who delighted in parodying Southern vernacular. Somehow, the word went full-circle and is now considered a distinctly Southern invention.

That dog won’t hunt

This idiom comes from the observation that not all dogs are made for hunting. If your boss says “that dog won’t hunt” in a meeting, it probably means your suggestion or idea needs improvement.

This phrase enjoyed national exposure in 1988 after Texas Governor Ann Richards remarked: "When we pay billions for planes that won’t fly, billions for tanks that won’t fire, and billions for systems that won’t work—that old dog won’t hunt.”

More than Carter’s got little pills

This idiom is used to emphasize when someone has a lot of something—perhaps too much of something.

But, who's Carter and why does he have so many little pills?

According to Appalachian Magazine, “The real Carter was a man from Erie, Pennsylvania, named Samuel J. Carter. In 1868, he began peddling a pill he said could cure any type of stomach sickness, marketing them as ‘Carter’s Little Liver Pills.’ Within a generation, the pills were being touted to cure, everything from headaches to constipation and indigestion.”

The creek don’t rise

This idiom—often said as “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”—means that with a little bit of luck and no unexpected problems, things should work out.

It seems this saying is a favorite expression of country singers. Johnny Cash had a hit with the song “If The Good Lord’s Willing,” and Hank Williams Jr. titled his song  “If the Good Lord’s Willin’ (And The Creeks Don’t Rise).”

Rode hard and put up wet

The colorful expression describes an object that’s mistreated or poorly cared for. It comes from the practice of riding a horse hard without brushing and grooming it afterwards.

If I had my druthers

In the 1956 Broadway musical Li’l Abner, the title character sings the song “If I Had My Druthers.” But what in the world was he singing about?

Your druthers are a matter of personal preference. Having your druthers essentially means getting your way. With great insight, Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, wrote, “We can’t always have our druthers.” And in her classic novel, Atticus says: “If I had my druthers I’d take a shotgun.”

Full as a tick

Southerners have been known to say, “I’m so hungry I could eat the ass-end out of a skunk!” A version of this idiom—“I’m so hungry I could eat the ass-end out of a dead rhino”—is used in the 1991 movie Point Break.

If you have a big Southern dinner and finish up with a slice of pecan pie, you might lean back and say, “I’m as full as a tick” meaning you’re stuffed or ate too much. (Although, it seems kinda gross to think about a bloodsucking insect while eating.)

Living in high cotton

If you’re living in high cotton, it means you’re feeling successful or wealthy. Fields filled with tall bushes loaded with white fluffy balls would yield high returns. Thanks to machinery and automation, the United States remains the top exporter of cotton in the world.

Of course, we can't think of the American South and mass cotton production without also thinking of slavery. This idiom could be considered outdated and offensive in modern times.

Can’t never could

This string of double negatives is actually meant as an encouragement! Can’t never could is a reminder that if you don’t even try, you won't ever accomplish your goal.

Georgia-born blogger Jennifer Collins says she always rolled her eyes when her mom said this to her. Now, she admits to saying this to her children. And yes, they roll their eyes, too.