Let’s talk Southern idioms. This aspect of our culture is often misunderstood or flat misrepresented. I blame TV, so please pardon my momentary vent. I can’t count how many times I’ve been watching a perfectly enjoyable TV show set somewhere outside this region, when suddenly a Southern character is introduced—usually with a glaringly bad accent, but I digress—who brings the comic relief by firing off nonsensical phrases (one recent strangler: “I’m busier than a one-legged cat in a sandbox”) that have no relationship to our graceful or gothic vernacular. This is not the way we speak! End of vent. Thank you.
Southerners’ most commonly used idioms are actually short and sweet (well, sometimes sweet). I’m talking about “y’all” and “bless your heart.” Here again, though, both have been so overused or misused in media, they’ve basically become parodies of themselves and Southern culture. That’s unfortunate, because they hold an important, functional place in our conversations.
“Y’all” is a warmer, shorter way of saying “all of you.” This construct isn’t strange. In fact, many languages include formal and informal ways of saying “you” in the plural form, ¿Comprendéis vosotros? (Did you see what I did there?) “Y’all” is the same. You won’t hear it in a large, formal setting or when first meeting someone—at least you shouldn’t. And you probably won’t see it in written communication very often. But when you hear this term from a Southerner, you know he or she is comfortable in front of you, and that is a true compliment.
Now, “bless your heart” is trickier to navigate, because its meaning really depends on context and tone. The phrase is used often in the South, sometimes as words of solace when witnessing another’s difficulties, sometimes to soften the blow of criticism, and other times in a delivery that you can tell is not a blessing but is so well-packaged there’s just no recourse to be had. The most deadly wielder of the last two forms is the elderly matriarch, who will lay them on you—in your presence or not—in conjunction with blunt criticism. My great-grandmother, a Methodist minister’s daughter and one of the gentlest individuals I ever knew, allowed herself the freedom of vocal complaints about the gaseous effusions, mental shortcomings, and unfortunate clothing choices of fellow assisted living residents by ending her commentary with a devout “bless her heart.” On one oft-quoted occasion she performed the hat trick of skewering herself and someone else at the same time by introducing us to a fellow resident thusly: “Honey, I want you to meet my best friend here. She doesn’t have a good mind left, bless her heart.” (Turning to the friend), “Now, tell me your name again?”
In summary, don’t believe all supposedly Southern idioms you hear, don’t underestimate the time-saving economy and comfort of “y’all,” and for goodness sake, don’t fail to parse a “bless your heart,” especially if it’s coming from a Southern matriarch.
If you find yourself visiting Emory University during February (we apologize in advance for the weather and swear it’s not usually like this), we hope you take time to explore Atlanta and get to know us. We’ve highlighted some events taking place this month to make your visit even more memorable. Safe travels, y’all!
Emory Jazz Fest 2016: Big Band Night at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts
February 13, 2016. Emory Big Band and the Gary Motley Trio are coming together for one night on Emory’s main campus in the famous Emerson Concert Hall to relive the greatest musical moments of Jazz history. Admission is free, so don’t miss this great opportunity to hear great music and see inside the Arts at Emory.
Marc Broussard: In Concert at the SCADshow
February 13, 2016. Here is another amazing, Southern-born singer and musician that could easily have fit in our country music review blog for his talent and expansion of the country music spectrum. If you haven’t heard his most popular hit, “Home” yet, then I know what is going to be stuck in your head for the next few days (trust me). I am so excited to see that SCADshow will be hosting Broussard and tickets are only $20! If you came to Atlanta to get to know us and you’re a fan of good music, then this is a can’t-miss show!
African American History Tours at Historic Oakland Cemetery
February 18–February 26, 2016. For those that have never visited Oakland Cemetery, it is the oldest cemetery in Atlanta (founded in 1850) and one of the few areas of the city to survive Atlanta’s burning during the Civil War. It also stands as one of the most honest depictions of Atlanta’s fraught history throughout segregation, war, and progressive rebuilding, all of which can be traced in aspects like the blatant separation of the burial grounds in the older areas of the cemetery, the variety and evolution of tombstones and grave markings, and the multi-generational Atlanta families and prominent city leaders. This month’s special tour will focus on the burial sites and lives of many African American Atlantans that played an integral part in the city’s history and evolution.
Orchid Daze at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens
February 13–April 10, 2016. Whether your thumbs are green or not at all agriculturally inclined, a visit to the gorgeous Atlanta Botanical Garden, located at the edge of Piedmont Park in the heart of midtown Atlanta, will always be memorable and fun. This 30-acre plant sanctuary includes rose gardens, an orchid center, an edible garden and bar, the famous Storza woods with its canopy walkway, and much more. There is always an art exhibit or two in the gardens throughout the year as well. Right now the garden is welcoming the arrival of spring with a special exhibition of thousands of orchids and season-inspired events. You are also welcome to visit outside of events to enjoy a nice stroll through the gardens, which offer some of the best views of the Midtown skyline and surrounding park area.
‘Til next month!
* Emory uses these abbreviations to designate graduation year. For example, Farish graduated from Emory College of Emory University in 2011.
Photos courtesy of Emory Arts, SCADshow, Historic Oakland Cemetery, and Atlanta Botanical Gardens.