This past couple of weeks I have been thinking about all the useful phrases I have heard people use during my years of growing up in the South. I still hear many of these in use but mostly by more mature people. I think young people are missing out on a verbal gold mine if they fail to adopt some of these phrases for their own.
The first category is similes. A simile is defined as a figure of speech that expresses a resemblance between two different objects. Usually the words "like" or "as" are involved, but sometimes you may hear a "than" in the middle of a simile. I like similes because they express ideas in very colorful ways. One of my favorites is "slower than molasses in January." I guess you have to have some experience with pouring molasses in order to understand that one. One of my dad’s favorites is "slicker than snot on a doorknob." Now I know that is disgusting, but it makes the point, does it not? Now that I think about it, many of the best similes are disgusting. Here is one I have heard recently: "He ran out of there like a scalded dog." I have always wondered how the dog managed to get scalded. Maybe he was hanging around while someone was plucking chickens or something.
The second category is disclaimer or waiver phrases. These are phrases that disclaim any meanness on your part when saying something about someone, or that waive responsibility on your part or on the part of the person being discussed. The absolute classic in this category is "bless his/her heart." For example, one could say "He can’t help being ugly but he could stay at home, bless his heart" and not be accused of being mean at all! Another in this category is "Lord love him/her," as in "He can’t seem to stay married, but he keeps trying, Lord love him." Some situations call for extra caution and therefore multiple blessings must be mentioned—"Have you seen poor Betty, bless her heart? Lord love her, she’s put on so much weight."
The third and final category for today is curse word stand-ins. The most chaste of us occasionally feel tempted to utter a bad word—like when you drop something on your toe, for example. Since swearing was not as common or accepted in days gone by (those were the days!), most people had some clean versions of curse words they could use. The most common one from my childhood was "shoot," as in "well, shoot!" I hear that "shucks" was a common word around here a while back. Another old-fashioned word that I still hear a lot is "sumbuck"— "I told that sumbuck to leave me alone!" Along those same lines is one of my favorites, "son of a biscuit eater." "Dagnabbit" is one that needs to be revived. While it does not appear to stand in for any particular curse word, it is satisfying enough to say to make it appropriate for many situations. My granddaddy’s version of that same word was "dadgummit." I love that word for all the memories it conjures up.
While I love a concise, compactly worded statement, I also love color and texture in language. And, as many of you have discerned, I am a proponent of preserving regional languages. I encourage you to make your own list of colorful phrases and work them into your everyday speech. I would especially like to see more people get in the curse word substitute habit, starting with myself! And as for the title, we have had lots of wet hens around Spring Creek lately and they DO get pretty grumpy!