Y’all got a kick out of last month’s list of common Southernisms, so StyleBlueprint’s Grammar Guru is back to dish out a few more! Here are eight more funny Southern phrases, disses, and exclamations that seem to be unique to the region — along with their best-guessed origins. How many have you heard?
You’ll never see it from a galloping horse.
Meaning: There are some things that you have to let go of. Something can be good, even if it’s flawed. Similar sayings: Done is better than perfect. Perfect is the enemy of good. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Origin: This expression has a long history in Ireland, England, and Irish-influenced Jamaica. Some say it started as the opposite notion: “Even a blind man galloping on a horse could see that.” As in, what a glaring flaw. I like the gentler version of the saying.
Example: “So what if you got a little stain on your skirt? You’ll never see it from a galloping horse.”
He’s all hat and no cattle.
Meaning: A phony or poser with a cowboy hat but no cows. It’s a rude way to say that someone is full of big talk but lacking in power or action. Similar to the phrase “all bark, no bite.”
Origin: Said to have first been seen in print in the 1930s, this classic Texas putdown juxtaposes the real cattle ranchers with those who wear the garb to look the part. There are lots of these types in the binge-worthy series Yellowstone.
Example: “So far, the new mayor’s been all hat and no cattle.”
Hangin’ in there like a hair in a biscuit
Meaning: Depending on intonation, this one can have a positive connotation: Persisting. Not giving up. Or a negative, desperate one: Barely hanging in there. Hanging on by a thread.
Origin: Whether this makes you cringe or smile, it’s one of the funniest Southern phrases we’ve stumbled upon. It’s the title of a book by Brad Bradford and the name of a song by Bruce Frye.
Example: “It’s been a long summer with my kids, but I’m hangin’ in there like a hair in a biscuit.”
Nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers
Meaning: Jumpy, uncomfortable, anxious. The implication is that the cat is scared of its tail getting caught under a rocking chair.
Origin: This is an excellent example of a long-form colloquialism that has existed primarily in the Deep South. It’s a much nicer way to say the other crass yet common idiom about someone sweating in church.
Example: “Calling Mom from jail had me nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers.”
That dog won’t hunt.
Meaning: That idea, thought, or plan won’t work. It’s just not going to happen.
Origin: Most agree this phrase originated in the southern United States when hunting dogs refused to do their intended jobs.
Example: “I was going to ask Eliza to the dance, but that dog won’t hunt. She’s already going with Bobby.”
If you cut your own firewood, it’ll warm you twice.
Meaning: Doing the hard work yourself is fruitful in and of itself. Self-reliance and responsibility for our well-being can reward us far beyond what we initially expected.
Origin: Some credit this to Henry Ford, who carved it into his mantlepiece, but it was likely an old English or German saying that was around for centuries before Ford. A variation of this saying is mentioned in a few 1800s pieces of writing, including Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (1854).
Example: “A wise person knows that cutting your own firewood will warm you twice.”
The porch light’s on, but no one’s home.
Meaning: A tongue-in-cheek way of saying someone isn’t very bright, clever, alert, or attentive … generally or occasionally.
Origin: This phrase has been used in the United States since the late 1960s or early 1970s. Other areas drop the “porch” and just say, “Lights are on; no one’s home.”
Example: “Jack is often caught daydreaming in class. It’s like the porch light’s on, but no one’s home.”
A day late and a dollar short
Meaning: This means you’ve given too little too late. You’ve shown a lackluster, half-hearted, or feeble effort or apology.
Origin: It’s thought that this idiom originated from the poverty of the Great Depression, but it’s first seen in print in 1939.
Example: “His apology for forgetting their anniversary was a day late and a dollar short.”
A big shoutout to readers Mary Lou Warren and Deborah Sells and to contributing writer Gaye Swan for some great ideas in this piece. If you have favorite Southerisms or Southern words, email [email protected].
For more fun grammar lessons, catch up on all of Grammar Guru’s recent articles HERE.