There are certain words, expressions, even inflections, that Southerners learn almost from the cradle. The rest of the population, however, may well find themselves in need of a small primer when contemplating traveling to the South. They could take an interpreter, but it's much more fun to be able to both understand Southern and speak it for oneself.
Southern ladies and their gentlemen can get away with the most egregious of insults as long as it's prefaced with the phrase , "Bless your/her/his heart" -- as in, "Bless his heart, if they put his brain on the head of a pin, it'd roll around like a BB on a six-lane highway." Or, "She can't help being ugly, bless her heart, but she could've stayed home." The meanest, blackest hearted old harridan can get away with verbal decimation as long as she incorporates those three little words into her insults. For example, "Bless her heart, she's so bucktoothed, she could eat an apple through a picket fence." Or "You know, it's amazing that even though she had that baby 7 months after they got married, bless her heart, it weighed 10 pounds!"
It's amazing but true that we can get away with the most outrageous barbs and snubs as long as we flavor it with the magic words: "Bless your heart."
Someone told a story about her new Northern friend who was upset because her toddler was just beginning to talk and he had a Southern accent. This lady, who is very kind and generous but, bless her heart, cannot do a thing about those thighs of hers, was justifiably miffed about it. After all, her new friend had chosen to move to the South. It will be fifty to a hundred years before she'll be accepted as a local and not considered "from away," but it was her choice. Anyway, this gently aging Southern belle said the foreign girl threw up her hands and moaned, "Can you believe it? A child of mine is going to be taaaallllkkin liiiike thiiiissss!"
I have Northern friends, bless their hearts, and I'm sure you do, too. We welcome their views, their companionship, and their ... recipes for authentic Northern Italian food.
The ones who really gore a Southerner's ox are the native Southerners who act almost embarrassed about their speech. Some try to hide it, "overcome" it, sublimate it. Some even go so far as to take elocution lessons, hoping to cultivate a nice, flat, no-inflection mid-Atlantic accent. Puh-leeze! There's a lyrical, melodic cadence to Southern speech that you don't hear anywhere else. It's something to celebrate, something to preserve.
I was raised hearing my grandma swanee, not swear. You hardly ever hear anyone say that these days, I swanee you don't. I sometimes find myself thinking twice about saying something is "right much," "right close," or "right good" because non-natives think this is right funny, indeed. They need to get over that right quick.
Sophisticated New Yorkers and proper Bostonians probably think it's pretty funny to hear a Southerner mention "carrying" my mother to the doctor or reminding the kids to "cut off" the lights. They'll also look at you oddly if you tell them you're fixin' to do somethin'.
Any time you start feeling embarrassed by your Southern accent, why, bless your heart, just take two tent revivals and a dose of redeye gravy and call us in the morning.
Some other Southern linguistic anomalies include:
"Onced" and "twiced" are words.
It is not a shopping cart; it is a buggy.
"Fixinto" is one word.
There is no such thing as "lunch". There is only dinner and then there is supper.
Backwards and forwards means "I know everything about you."
Jeet? is actually a phrase meaning "Did you eat?"
A carbonated soft drink isn't a soda, cola or pop...it's a Coke, regardless of brand or flavor. Example: "What kinda Coke you want?"