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Local Lingo to Know Before Moving Down South

One of the biggest culture shocks you might have when moving to the South is the lingo. There are quite a few differences in vocabulary, especially if you’re coming from the West or the North, although even Midwesterners might scratch their heads a bit. Some say you almost need a translator and while that might be somewhat of an exaggeration, there are quite a few things that Southern people say that the rest of the country has difficulty understanding.

To help you get comfortable with conversations before moving into one of the apartments in Knoxville, TN, a home in Charleston, South Carolina, or any other place in the South, here’s the lingo you need to be familiar with.

Bless Your Heart

If you walk around town on any given day, odds are, you’ll hear someone say “bless your heart.” It has a thousand meanings and while it may be good-natured and deployed sincerely, it often has an edge to it, coming from someone who’s a bit exasperated.

The meaning depends on the tone in which it’s spoken, with the volume and/or inflection making all the difference. It can make you feel cared for or it can sting a little. If there’s a touch of attitude in how it’s said, it’s probably coming with judgment, but as an expression of concern or empathy, it’s meant as a show of kindness and understanding, kind of like a hug without the actual touch.


If you hear someone say “I’m fixin'” that probably doesn’t mean they’re fixing a crooked picture on the wall or an item broken in need of repair. It means they’re getting ready to do something but they might be procrastinating a bit, such as “I’m fixin’ to do the dishes” or “I’m fixin’ to go to sleep.”

If the Creek Don’t Rise

This one means, “I’ll be there unless there’s something out of my control that stops me.” Like “come hell or high water,” which originated in the Midwest. For example, “I’m going to make it to your wedding if the creek don’t rise.” There have been times when people in the South have been thwarted by a rising creek that blocked a road, which is likely how it all began decades, or even centuries ago.

In fact, the origin is said to be a Continental Congress senator, Col. Benjamin Hawkins of North Carolina, in the late 1700s and early 1800s, according to the SunHerald. When he was called to the nation’s capital, he reportedly once said, “If God is willing and the creek don’t rise.”

Over Yonder

What’s yonder you might wonder? When you’re in the South, it’s a direction in the distance and may or may not be accompanied by a gesture that indicates the general area in which it exists, to the west, east, south or north. As in, “over yonder past the cotton field.”

When you hear it, you’ll need to take the directional cues and context clues and be prepared for an adventure. The word “yonder” blends the English word “you” with the Dutch word “ginder,” which means “over there.”


Hush basically means “shut up” but said in a more polite way. You might hear a teacher tell her class, “Y’all better hush up or you’ll never pass this test.” Or if you’re talking in a movie theater, it might be directed to yourself.


Reckon is a word that can replace many different phrases, like “I think,” “I guess,” “I imagine” or “I suppose.” You’ll hear it all the time throughout the South as it’s a quintessential phrase in this region of the country.

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