Language discrepancies naturally arise in different geographic regions, like the
raging “pop” vs. “soda” debate.
But the South undoubtedly takes the cake.
Conversations south of the Mason-Dixon line will befuddle anyone not born there.
We chose 15 of the most ridiculous Southern sayings — and tried to explain them.
1. “We’re living in high cotton.”
Cotton has long been a key crop to the South’s economy, so every harvest farmers pray for tall bushes loaded with white fluffy balls in their fields. Tall cotton bushes are easier to pick and yield higher returns. If you’re living “in high cotton,” it means you’re feeling particularly successful or wealthy.
2. “She was madder than a wet hen.”
Hens sometimes enter a phase of “broodiness” — they’ll stop at nothing to incubate their eggs and get agitated when farmers try to collect them. Farmers used to dunk hens in cold water to “break” their broodiness.
You don’t want to be around a hormonal hen after she’s had an ice bath.
3. “He could eat corn through a picket fence.”
This describes someone with an unfortunate set of buck teeth. They tend to stick up and outward, like a horse’s teeth. Imagine a horse eating a carrot, and you’ll get the picture.
4. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”
A pig’s ear may look soft, pink, and shiny, but you’re not fooling anyone by calling it your new Marc Jacobs bag. A Southerner might say this about her redneck cousin who likes to decorate his house with deer antlers.
5. “You look rode hard and put up wet.”
No, this isn’t Southern sexual innuendo. The phrase refers to a key step in horse grooming — when a horse runs fast, it works up a sweat, especially under the saddle. A good rider knows to walk the horse around so it can dry off before going back to the stable. A horse will look sick and tired if you forget this step, much like a person who misses sleep or drinks too much.
6. “He’s as drunk as Cooter Brown.”
Cooter Brown is an infamous character in Southern lore. Legend tells that he lived on the Mason-Dixon line — the border between the North and South — during the Civil War. To avoid the draft on either side, Cooter decided to stay drunk throughout the entire war, making him ineligible for battle.
Inebriated Southerners have measured their drunkenness by him ever since.
7. “She’s as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine.”
When a pig dies, presumably in a sty outside, the sun dries out its skin. This effect pulls the pig’s lips back to reveal a toothy “grin,” making it look happy even though it’s dead. This phrase describes a person who’s blissfully ignorant of reality.
8. “She’s got more nerve than Carter’s got Liver Pills.”
Carters Products started as a pill-peddling company in the latter part of the 19th century. Specifically, Carters repped its “Little Liver Pills” so hard a Southern saying spawned from the omnipresent advertisements.
Alas, the Federal Trade Commission forced the drug-group to drop the “liver” portion of the ad, claiming it was deceptive. Carter’s “Little Liver Pills” became Carter’s “Little Pills” in 1951, but the South doesn’t really pay attention to history. The phrase stuck.
9. “I’m finer than frog hair split four ways.”
Southerners mostly use this phrase to answer, “How are you?” Even those below the Mason-Dixon know frogs don’t have hair, and the irony means to highlight just how dandy you feel.
The phrase reportedly originated in C. Davis’ “Diary of 1865.”
10. “He thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow.”
On farms (not just in the South) roosters usually crow when the sun rises. Their vociferous habit wakes up the house, signaling time to work.
An extremely cocky rooster might think the sun rises simply because he crows. Similarly, an extremely cocky man might think the same when he speaks — and also that everyone should listen to him.
11. “That’s about as useful as tits on a bull.”
Only female dairy cows produce milk. Male cows are called bulls. And even if you could “milk anything with nipples,” bulls tend to be rather ornery. Good luck with that.
12. “That thing is all catawampus.”
Catawampus adj: askew, awry, cater-cornered.
Lexicographers don’t really know how it evolved, though. They speculate it’s a colloquial perversion of “cater-corner.” Variations include: catawampous, cattywampus, catty wonkus. The South isn’t really big on details.
13. “He’s got enough money to burn a wet mule.”
In 1929, then-Governor of Louisiana Huey Long, nicknamed “The Kingfish,” tried to enact a five-cent tax on each barrel of refined oil to fund welfare programs. Naturally, Standard Oil threw a hissy fit and tried to impeach him on some fairly erroneous charges (including attending a drunken party with a stripper).
But Long, a good ole’ boy, fought back. He reportedly said the company had offered legislators as much as $US25,000 for their votes to kick him out of office — what he called “enough money to burn a wet mule.”
We Northerners may not know what that means, but at least we know where it comes from.
Bonus: Bless Your Heart
Almost everyone knows Southern women drop this phrase constantly. But it might not mean what you think it means.
In reality, the phrase has little to do with religion and more to do with a passive-aggressive way to call you an idiot. Depending on your inflection, saying “bless your heart” can sting worse than any insult.