Arts & Culture

Ten Lively Southern Expressions

These phrases will have you grinning like a possum eating a sweet potato

Photo: Cedric Angeles

1. “All hat, no cattle
Imagine the would-be ranching magnate, flush with cash earned elsewhere, who blows into town with a ten-gallon lid, a fresh pair of boots—and a much too loud mouth.

2. “Drunker than Cooter Brown
As legend has it, Cooter Brown was a man who did not see fit to take up with either side during the Civil War, and so remained so staggeringly drunk throughout the entire conflict that he avoided conscription.

3. “Fine as frog’s hair split four ways
What’s that? You’ve never seen hair on a frog? Exactly. Split it four ways and it becomes awfully fine indeed.

4. “Grinning like a possum eating a sweet potato
For a scavenger accustomed to a diet of bugs, slugs, and roadkill, having a fat, juicy sweet potato to gorge on is like winning the lottery.

5. “Happy as a dead pig in the sunshine
Deceptively complex, this one contains a built-in lesson in postmortem porcine physiology. As a dead pig’s body lies out in the sunshine, see, its lips begin to pull back from its teeth, creating the illusion of a wide grin. The expression describes a similarly oblivious (though quite alive) person who smiles away when in reality things aren’t going so hot.

6. “Knee-high to a grasshopper
Most often used to denote growth, as in: “I haven’t seen you since you were knee-high to a grasshopper!”

7. “Slower than molasses running uphill in the winter
Things don’t get much slower than molasses. Uphill in winter? You get the picture.

8. “Ran like a scalded haint
The opposite meaning of the previous phrase. A haint, in old Southern terminology, is a ghost, and according to tradition, scalding one will send it running right quick.

9. “Like a cat on a hot tin roof
Cats are jumpy enough in a comfortable living room. The expression describes someone in an extreme state of upset and anxiety, and, of course it was used by Tennessee Williams as the title of his Pulitzer-winning 1955 play.

10. “Enough money to burn a wet mule
Why a person might choose to burn a soaking wet thousand-pound mule is anybody’s guess, but the expression was made famous (in some circles) when legendary Louisiana governor Huey Long used it in reference to deep-pocketed nemesis Standard Oil.