Growing up in the south, “fixing’ to” never sounded strange to me. But as a freshman at The University of Alabama in 1985, I learned that people in other parts of the country never say it. In fact, it sounds strange to them. They had no idea what it meant. There were several girls on my dorm hall from different states…Illinois, Alaska, Delaware…and they all found it amusing that folks in the Deep South say “fixin’ to” when speaking of something they are about to do.
Recently, I was at my daughter’s field hockey game, and the older sister of one of the players was there. She is now a student at an Ivy League school but was home for a few days, and while she was talking with someone else I heard her say she was “fixin’ to” do something. I couldn’t resist. I asked her, “Do people at your school think it’s odd that you say that?” She laughed. In fact, she said people at her school have a hard time figuring out where she’s from, because she switches up her dialect on them.
I’ve always had an interest in dialects. I’m no linguist, but I take great pride in deciphering the intricacies of different dialects within regions and around the country.
I grew up in Alabama, and even within that state, there are different dialects. I won’t even try to break it all down, but trust me when I say you can tell what part of the state someone is from by how they pronounce certain words. Times are changing, and I’m afraid the southern accent will soon be lost, but here are some things we said when I was growing up…things I think are straight out of the south:
- Y’all. No surprise here. I don’t know anyone who grew up in the south who doesn’t say “y’all.” For those of you who don’t know, it’s short for “you all.” Someone might ask, “Where are y’all from?” But if a big group is involved, someone might ask, “Are all y’all going?”
- Coke. If you grew up calling soft drinks “sodas” or “pops,” you’ll likely find this funny. I think it will likely phase out with the homogenization of America, but when I was growing up, we called all soft drinks “Coke.” If I were at a baseball game and decided to to the concession stand, I would ask my friends, “Can I get anybody a Coke?” One would likely respond, “Yes! I’ll have a Sprite!” And another might respond, “Yes! Dr. Pepper please!” It was a Deep South thing…not all over the south. Now I’m wondering if folks in Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle still do that. Anyone?
- Buggy. What comes to mind when you see/hear that word? If you’re from anywhere but the Deep South, you likely think of a form of transportation that’s pulled by horses. But if you’re from the Deep South, you think of the thing you put groceries into at the store. Called a “shopping cart” or “cart” in other parts of the country, we always called it a “buggy” when I was growing up. We’d walk into the grocery store, and Mama would say, “Get a buggy, please.”
- Tennis shoes. In other parts of the country, athletic shoes are referred to as sneakers. In the south, they’re “tennis shoes.” Even if they’re not really for tennis, lots of southerners tend to call them “tennis shoes.” It can be confusing.
- Dressing. Years ago, when my daughter was four or five, I was talking with a friend who grew up in Boston about what a picky eater my daughter was. In conversation, I said, “She won’t even eat dressing!” My friend from Boston asked, “Does she eat salad?” And then I remembered…the stuff you eat with turkey on Thanksgiving is called “stuffing” everywhere except the south. In the south, we call it “dressing.” And cornbread dressing is my personal favorite!
- Ink pen. This one is not so common anymore, but back in the day, in the Deep South, people would say, “May I borrow your ink pen?” Yes, it’s redundant, because pens, by definition, contain ink. However, I think it was said in the south, because with a southern accent, “pen” and “pin” sound very similar. Putting “ink” before the word “pen” helped differentiate. Whereas, up north (said “nawuth” by lots of southerners, like my mother, may she Rest In Peace), you can clearly hear the difference in the prononciation of the two words.
And since I mentioned my mother, when my now-15-yr-old daughter was youner, she thought it was so funny that my mother said “nawuth,” “enjaweh” (enjoy), “baweh” (boy), and more.
There are lots more words and phrases we use in the south, but those are just a few. Add in our accents, and you might not understand a word we say…bless your heart! Which reminds me…”bless your heart” can be an expression of sympathy, or it can be catty, depending on the tone. You can get more information about that here.
Before closing, I want to add one more thing. Everyone from the south is not from Alabama, but Alabama fans often use “Roll Tide” (the University of Alabama’s rally cry) as a greeting. No, everyone in Alabama doesn’t do it, because not everyone in the state is a fan of The University of Alabama, but fans who know one another greet each other with “Roll Tide”! Or when something great happens for someone, they might exclaim, “Roll Tide!” But one thing to know…if you are going to wear t-shirts, hoodies, or hats with The University of Alabama symbols on it, be prepared for folks to say “Roll Tide!” when they pass you. You must say it back. If I’m in a Target in Wisconsin, and I see someone wearing an Alabama hoodie, I exclaim, “Roll Tide!” But if I don’t get a “Roll Tide” in return, I think, “If you’re going to wear the shirt, you have to know the lingo…bless your heart.”