descriptors / words

How to Talk Like a Southerner

map of alabamaAs part of my writer’s resources, I post lists of descriptions that have jogged my creativity and helped me write about this and that more cleverly. One of the most challenging jobs as a writer–IMHO–is representing  how people talk in the cultural nuances of their geographic area. I’m not talking about a native language–a Russian speaking Russian even though you type it in English for your reading audience. I’ve seen this done a variety of ways:

  • the native language followed by the English
  • a few lines in the native language and the rest in English
  • a continual smattering of the native language with the rest in English, using common phrases that many people would understand. For example, if they’re Russian, you might say goodbye with Dos Vdanya.

The reader quickly gets the idea the reader is that nationality.

What I’m referring to in this post is more like a character trait–differentiating one of your actors with the cultural nuances of his language. For example, for a Brit, you’d have him say ‘spot on’ or ‘bloody’. When that appeared in a dialogue, it clarifies for the reader who’s talking without the need for tags. It also helps put the reader in the scene, with the action.

Fellow blogger Andy Oldham over at Christian Grandfather sent me a list he created of Southern words and agreed to share them with you-all. It’s long–over forty pages–so I’ll only put the first page, and then a link to download the entire list. If you’re writing about the American South or have a character newly-moved from that geographic area, these will add spice to any scene:

Acronyms ~

  • WWSD ~ What would Scarlett do?

A –

  • A tough row to hoe ~ it will be hard to do but not impossible
  • Anal glaucoma ~ I can’t see myself coming to work today
  • Aim to ~ I plan to do something
  • Ain’t ~ isn’t
  • Air-up ~ put air in a tire
  • ANYWAYS ~ And, then; and, so
  • Arish ~ It’s a bit chilly outside tonight
  • Aunt ~ called Ont or Ontee, aunties
  • Aunt Flo [came to visit] ~ It’s code for a girls period. Makes a good inside joke.

B –

  • Baby (1) ~ New baby is an infant
  • Hip baby is old enough to sit on your hip
  • Knee baby – one who stands or holds on to mama’s knee while she is talking to someone.
  • Baby (2) ~ my girlfriend/boyfriend or wife/husband or lover – Oh Baby!
  • Baily-wick ~ the cards are not in your baily-wick, or you lost that game, I guess it wasn’t in your baily-wick.
  • Beaux ~ a gentleman caller or friend
  • Be-ins ~ since, if, so long as
  • Biggity ~ Vain and overbearing
  • Bitty bit – or itty bitty bit ~ A tiny amount
  • Blabber Chabber: ~ Someone who talks on and on about nothing; jibberish
  • Blissful living ~ someone is very happy regardless of circumstance
  • Blowhard – braggart, bully
  • Blue Belly or Yank or Yankee ~ anyone from north of the Mason- Dixon Line; some say anyone from north of I-10 or I-20, lol
  • BOBO ~ A small injury or wound.
  • Bogeyman ~ Pronounced Boogyman; the devil, a demon, a ghost.
  • oiled Peanuts ~ It’s what southerners do with peanuts
  • Boohiney ~ Buttocks/I’ll kick your boohiney; She has a nice boohiney!
  • Boots (cowboy) ~ Shoes perfect for every occasion
  • Bowed-up ~ impatient, upset and pouting
  • Boy Howdy ~ an exclamation
  • Bread basket ~ stomach
  • Bumfuzzeled ~ Confused or disoriented

Here’s the attachment so you can get the entire immersive list–Southern Writers Catalog. Enjoy!

There are some great websites that discuss using Southern dialect and phrasing in writing (often humor). Here’s one from Alabama Tom, and here’s a thorough discussion on how to talk Southern. These two are great!

More about language:

The Evolution of Language

I Heart Neologisms

Follow me

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

41 thoughts on “How to Talk Like a Southerner

  1. Pingback: 29 Ways to Describe a Headache | WordDreams...

  2. Pingback: 57 Ways to Describe Talking in a Novel | WordDreams...

  3. Oh my goodness, Jacqui, the responses you’ve gotten to this post are many! Just shows how timely and interesting we find the topic.
    I come by my Southern drawl naturally, having lived in Alabama when I was five and picked it up in about 4 hours of playing with my neighbor, Joyce, born and bred in “Ennaprihze.” (Enterprise, AL) I still can roll out a pretty convincing drawl. The secret of course is to salt a written work with authentic phrases that can be identified as Southern – or Bostonian or Texan or whatever section of the country your character hails from. Then do the same with people born in foreign countries – it takes a good ear not only for the accent but also for the verbiage and correct application.
    Thanks for a terrific and fun list.


    • You’re absolutely right, Shari–salt the story with authentic phrases. That’s what I get from lists like this–a big collection of phrases that work in the right circumstance. Andy did a wonderful job.


  4. This one isn’t totally accurate. Anal glaucoma ~ I can’t see myself coming to work today.

    You need to add “butt” to the sentence. “I cant see my butt going to work today.” I tell this joke all of the time.

    An Eye problem would be “I cant see (myself) going to work today.”

    Love the list.


    • Apparently, when I read this column back i 2016, I didn’t see your comment. I happened across this as I was looking through some old files. Being years late, I don’t know how much help it will be. As a young girl I spent time in W Va with my grandparents in Morgantown. I was born in Elkins, but grew up in Pittsburgh. The main thing with speech that I remember was the long U sound for words like push, cushion, and bush. I heard it both ways, but preferred the long ‘U’ sound like in “you” and not the short ‘uh’ like in ‘fuss’. Over the years I’ve lost my “accent” and now speak Pittsburgh-ese, but everyone once in a while I slip up.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ooops, I’m from well north of the Mason Dixon, but I use some of these. Another tip for finding language–I needed expressions from 1931 (and there were a lot of them) so I googled it and found dozens of period appropriate references.


  6. I am glad you posted these Jacqui and I hope others can use them. Most of the things I write are mid-twentieth century. That is why I started collecting them. I hope these can help others as much as they have helped me.


    • I was going to make a similar comment, keaneonlife. And some of these words and phrases have disappeared altogether. Any more, the only true difference is the accent. I was raised in Colorado. I live in Tennessee now. I’m told I have a little bit of the drawl now. 😛


What do you think? Leave a comment and I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.