Besides Native American Indians, early America consisted of a motley assortment of European immigrants from Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, along with African slaves, of course.
The colonial frontier was settled by those mostly from northern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Southern dialects originated from those who immigrated from the British Isles, as well as large numbers from Ireland and Scotland.
I’ve always been intrigued by Southern accents (in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Arkansas, as well as most of Texas, Florida, Southern Delaware, Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia) because I wonder with some amusement at what point did these British, Scottish and Irish immigrants begin speaking with a Southern drawl?
Even more interesting are some Southern phrases or sayings that only make sense to the people who live in the South.
Business Insider writers Christina Sterbenz and Rylan Miller recently explored some of these sayings, many of which are related to food or the farm.
10 Most Ridiculous Southern Sayings
1. “We’re living in high cotton”
Cotton has long been a key crop to the South’s economy, so every harvest farmers pray for tall bushes loaded with white fluffy balls in their fields. Tall cotton bushes are easier to pick and yield higher returns. If you’re living “in high cotton,” it means you’re feeling particularly successful or wealthy.
2. “She was madder than a wet hen”
Hens sometimes enter a phase of “broodiness” — they’ll stop at nothing to incubate their eggs and get agitated when farmers try to collect them. Farmers used to dunk hens in cold water to “break” their broodiness.
You don’t want to be around a hormonal hen after she’s had an ice bath.
3. “He could eat corn through a picket fence”
This describes someone with an unfortunate set of buck teeth. They tend to stick up and outward, like a horse’s teeth. Imagine a horse eating a carrot, and you’ll get the picture.
4. “You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”
A pig’s ear may look soft, pink, and shiny, but you’re not fooling anyone by calling it your new Marc Jacobs bag. A Southerner might say this about her redneck cousin who likes to decorate his house with deer antlers.
5. “You look rode hard and put up wet”
No, this isn’t Southern sexual innuendo. The phrase refers to a key step in horse grooming — when a horse runs fast, it works up a sweat, especially under the saddle. A good rider knows to walk the horse around so it can dry off before going back to the stable. A horse will look sick and tired if you forget this step, much like a person who misses sleep or drinks too much.
6. “She’s as happy as a dead pig in the sunshine”
When a pig dies, presumably in a sty outside, the sun dries out its skin. This effect pulls the pig’s lips back to reveal a toothy “grin,” making it look happy even though it’s dead. This phrase describes a person who’s blissfully ignorant of reality.
7. “I’m finer than frog hair split four ways”
Southerners mostly use this phrase to answer, “How are you?” Even those below the Mason-Dixon know frogs don’t have hair, and the irony means to highlight just how dandy you feel.
The phrase reportedly originated in C. Davis’ “Diary of 1865.”
8. “He thinks the sun comes up just to hear him crow”
On farms (not just in the South) roosters usually crow when the sun rises. Their vociferous habit wakes up the house, signaling time to work.
An extremely cocky rooster might think the sun rises simply because he crows. Similarly, an extremely cocky man might think the same when he speaks — and also that everyone should listen to him.
9. “That’s about as useful as tits on a bull”
Only female dairy cows produce milk. Male cows are called bulls. And even if you could “milk anything with nipples,” bulls tend to be rather ornery. Good luck with that.
10. “He’s got enough money to burn a wet mule”
In 1929, then-Governor of Louisiana Huey Long, nicknamed “The Kingfish,” tried to enact a five-cent tax on each barrel of refined oil to fund welfare programs. Naturally, Standard Oil threw a hissy fit and tried to impeach him on some fairly erroneous charges (including attending a drunken party with a stripper).
But Long, a good ole’ boy, fought back. He reportedly said the company had offered legislators as much as $25,000 for their votes to kick him out of office — what he called “enough money to burn a wet mule.”
We Northerners may not know what that means, but at least we know where it comes from.