LESLIE CRISS: Southern idioms offer boost to one’s sense of humor



“Our language is funny – a fat chance and slim chance are the same thing.” – J. Gustav White

“It’s a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water.” – Franklin P. Jones

I was well into my 30s before I realized my grandmother’s “see you tireckly” was, in reality, “see you directly.”

She was a smart woman, my grandmother, she’d simply grown up hearing the word tireckly and never questioned its correctness.

Whenever my grandmother heard a bit of news she found a bit far-fetched, her response would be either, “Well, I swanney,” or “I declare.”

And when I’d tell her good-bye after a visit, assuring her I’d see her again soon, her words were always the same, “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.”

In the past month I have heard a new phrase four times, used twice each by two friends.

One told a roomful of reporters they needed to “gin it up,” referring to generating more copy for the next day’s newspaper. He used it again a week later.

According to an online Urban Dictionary, to “gin it up” means to get excited, to stir up, to enliven. The phrase is thought to come from the 1800s British slang term “ginger up,” which referred to the practice of putting ginger up a horse’s rear to make him spirited and prance with a high tail, for purposes of show or sale. Oh, my.

My Booneville buddy used it twice in the same conversation, talking about his boyhood and that he was “ginning around in the yard.” According to Webster’s, that means wasting time.

Our language here in the South is rich with words and phrases that make me smile. Here are a few more:

• A cross between to turn over and dump – tump.

• About to – fixin’ to. My grandmother is fixin’ to tump the old potting soil out of the clay pots.

• To be a diabetic – “I’ve got the sugar.”

• Feeling ill or down in the dumps – He is feeling low cotton today.

• I wouldn’t care to. When I first moved to Northeast Mississippi, I was confused by this phrase. I’d hear it when asking someone if they would do something for me. For example, “Would you give me a ride home?” And their answer would be, “I wouldn’t care to.”

To me, that meant no, they did not want to give me a ride. But I learned what they meant was they would not mind giving me a ride.

• Suffering from a headache – “My head is literally about to explode.” Really? I don’t think so.

• We’ve all known and loved someone who might, well, be a bit ditsy. I’ve heard many ways of describing that person, but my favorites are, “He’s a sandwich short of a picnic” or “Her lights are on but clearly no one is home.”

• And finally, when you run into someone who’s grouchy, give them a big smile and say, “You can just get happy in the same britches you got mad in.”


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