Southerners have a way with words. Not only in the way they say things, but how they say things. I love a southern accent, but southerners also know how to talk expressively, which is why I like writing about characters from the South; it’s full of spirited people who use colorful language. And by language, I don’t mean swear words. I mean expressions. People all over the world use sayings or colloquialisms. But nobody knows how to wield an expression like a southerner.
Winston Groom didn’t originate “Pretty is as pretty does” or “Life is like a box of chocolates,” but he did make the phrases well known when he wrote them into Forrest Gump. I grew up hearing phrases like “I’m busier than a one-armed paper hanger,” and “She’s got the personality of a dishrag.” Most everybody’s heard those, right? But the South has hundreds of them. I think colloquialisms are the spice of language. They add a little bit of spirit, they give a vivid picture of the speaker’s intent, and they are memorable.
Why say, “That surprises me” when you could say, “Well shave my legs and call me smoothy.”
Why answer a rhetorical question with “Yes” when you could say, “Does a fat kid like cake?”
“She looks like she made an ugly pie and ate every slice” says so much more than a simple, “She’s ugly.”
My father used to come home with new lines all the time. As a blasé teenager, I rolled my eyes and held my appreciation in check for lines like, “Her tongue’s tied in the middle and loose at both ends.” But all these years later, I remember them.
Suppose it’s the first day of August and you’re a southerner on the phone with somebody from up north. You could tell them, “Man it’s hot out there,” or you could say, “It’s so hot out there you could pull a baked potato right out of the ground.” Now that’s hot. You’ve illustrated just how hot it is outside and entertained your friend to boot.
Or suppose you’re angry with someone. If they said, “Oh calm down.” You probably would be anything but calm. But if they said, “You can just get glad in the same pants you got mad in, missy,” it’s a pretty good bet your anger is going to crack just a little bit, along with your smile.
My novel, Murder & Mayhem In Goose Pimple Junction, is loaded with conversations peppered with expressions that are often bandied about in the south. I’ve begun to call these colorful phrases “goosepimpleisms.” It’s no secret that I didn’t invent, write, or first utter these lines. But I’m told they’re woven into the dialogue of my book in a way that makes Goose Pimple Junction take on a personality of its own.
Now my kids are the ones rolling their eyes when I say, “I’m hangin’ in there like a hair in a biscuit,” or “You’re actin’ crazier than a sprayed roach,” or “She had a hissy fit with a tail on it.” Now that’s a hissy fit, although a “duck fit” is one fit above that one, and a “dying duck fit” is one above that.
My favorite goosepimpleism is, “Get your straw out of my Kool-Aid,” to tell someone to mind their own business. But go ahead and put your straw into my Kool-Aid and read Murder & Mayhem In Goose Pimple Junction. That would make me happier than a woodpecker in a lumberyard!