Heaton: Top 10 Secret Southern Sayings

top ten

Siri must be from Jersey. While attempting find “Pecan” Street with my iPhone (that’s “puh-cahns,” not “pee-cans”) and finding myself at a medical supply store, I realized that the only thing Siri understands is “Fuggetaboudit.”

Suddenly, I had a revelation. If Siri can’t understand my accent, what chance do northerners have with an entire phrase? Southerners have a secret language in the sayings, proverbs and metaphors we grew up with. It’s better than texting or passing notes because your message may be sent in the open — your heritage encrypts it for you. Here are 10 of the most useful secret Southern sayings.

1. Be like granny falling out of the wagon. To be used in place of “mind your own knitting” or “sit there and sip your tea.” Like granny, you were not in the wagon, so stay out of the wagon. Breaking this down: 1) you weren’t there, 2) therefore you couldn’t know, 3) so it is none of your business.

2. Don’t wash a pig. In place of the more obvious: “Don’t argue with idiots, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Like arguing, washing a pig is messy. It has no rules. It has no clear beginning, middle or end. When you’re done, you’re not sure if the pig is clean or even why you were washing a pig in the first place. You may be exhausted, but the pig (AKA argumentative person) has probably enjoyed it.

3. A miss is as good as a mile. Instead of saying “Close only counts in horseshoes.” This phrase means that a “close miss” is the same as a “wide miss” — they are both misses. This proverb dates from the 18th century, and is English in origin.

4. Eat the frog. This means if you have something unpleasant to do, do it first. From the classic Mark Twain quote: “If you know you have to swallow a frog, swallow it first thing in the morning. If there are two frogs, swallow the big one first.”

5. The cotton patch doesn’t care which way you vote. This timely message means whoever ends up in the White House, you can’t count on them to help you. Carter, Bush, and the Clintons, we have survived them all. At the end of the day, you got to put be able to put “bacon on biscuit” — they ain’t doing it for you.

6. Toss a cat in the covey. This is one I borrowed from the Brits. Use this message when you need a diversion. I’m attempting to add this to the Southern lexicon because — well, the image is hilarious. If you threw a cat into a covey of quail all hell would break lose. This is a secret message asking someone to create a diversion. The classic all-purpose diversion is to spill your drink on someone.

7. Don’t worry about the mule going blind. Meaning, just get the job or task to “done.” The whole phrase is: Don’t worry about the mule going blind, just load the wagon.”

8. Skinny dipped with snapping turtles. This means that the person in question is deficient in a possibly unsatisfying way. I’ll let you figure it out.

9. A wink is as good as a nod. Meaning, some people just can’t take a hint. The whole phrase is: “A wink is as good as a nod to a blind horse.” Hopefully, you won’t be thinking this after the messages: “Skinny dipped with snapping turtles” or “Don’t wash a pig” went un-received.

10. Don’t rake-up the family secrets of sausage. Instead of saying: “every dog has a few fleas” or “every family has a skeleton in the closet.” Besides, Southerners like to say that “we don’t hide our crazy relatives, we show them off.”

And put that cell phone down – it’s the yawn of the 21st Century.

coverv2.0Tim Heaton is a HottyToddy.com contributor and can be reached at tim.h.heaton@gmail.com. His new book, “Momma n’ Em Said: The Treasury of Southern Sayings” is available on Amazon.


  1. Uh, you’ve obviously never been to the south. First of all, even living in the south for 42 of my 50 years, I’ve only heard one of these phrases, and that’s the very BRITISH “wink as good as a nod”. Second, any “top 10” list of southern phrases without “bless your heart” is automatically bogus. Please keep your google searches to yourself. How you got published on HottyToddy is beyond me. Bless your heart.

  2. hmmm. Don’t be ugly. I said they were secret. How about “A cat can have kittens in the oven, but that don’t make ’em biscuits?”

  3. Hmmm. Scooter,,Bryan, and dr Todd seem to be excessively territorial. Wish I didn’t have anything else to get riled up about

  4. I have heard number 3. The others were interesting. I did buy your book Momma n ’em said . Never heard of a Kroger sack. Is that the same as a croaker sack ? Keep writing! We in the South are full of “stuff ” . LOL We ain’t heard it all yet.

  5. Thank you very much Dottie Dewberry! I should have used “croaker.” Tell you what. Send me an email, I’ll send you a edited copy. Warm regards – Tim

  6. While I wouldn’t consider all of these exclusive to the South, they are all “old timey”. Number 7 is often used by my 91 year old grandmother who was raised in Randolph County Alabama.
    It’s my life motto. If your opinion is different. …you don’t have to be mean as a cut snake about it.

  7. These are great. In Arkansas I heard “What if the mule goes blind?” in response to “But what if–?” questions. Don’t sit around imagining disaster! There will be plenty to cope with in time. And I couldn’t agree with you more about “pee-can.” Was shocked by that pronunciation when I moved to NYC. A pee can is what you have on a construction site, not the basis for a delicious pie.

    Another one I heard, before it was the title hook for a song, was “losing my religion,” meaning “about to lose my ability to function as a decent Christian and smack the hell out of you if you don’t stop.”


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