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Embrace Your Southern Sayings

Idiom: language particular to a people or a district, community or class.

Merriam-Webster dictionary

Every region has its sayings, and North Carolina has plenty of colorful ones that pepper the speech of native southerners.

If you’re a native North Carolinian, you may have found yourself saying some of the phrases below (meanings are in parentheses for those of you reading who aren’t familiar with these)

  • Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. (Don’t count on something that’s not a sure thing.)
  • He’s beside himself. (He’s frustrated.)
  • I’m fixin’ to go to the meeting. (I’m getting ready to go to the meeting.)
  • That girl is too big for her britches. (That girl thinks highly of herself.)
  • My bread basket is stuffed. (My stomach is full.)

Many of us were taught in school to try to avoid clichés or idioms in our speech. The reason behind that line of teaching comes from the fact that idioms use words or phrases in a way that when taken literally the meaning is different than the concept you’re trying to get across, or the words might even sound nonsensical. For example, with “he’s beside himself,” a literal translation makes it sounds ridiculous, because it’s impossible for a person to be in two places at once. When you refer to a person as too big for their britches, a person might interpret that to mean they outgrew their clothes, when what you really mean is they’re egotistical.

As a corporate speech trainer and speech pathologist, my world centers around helping people communicate. The goal of language is to communicate with others in a way that can be easily understood. While I understand the reason school teachers encourage students to avoid using idioms, I also happen to love idioms. These sayings are what help make our speech interesting. They add flavor to our conversations, just like salt and pepper add flavor to our meals.

Idioms not only add spice to our speech, they also help identify us in our culture and heritage. Just as the idioms listed above are heard in the South, there are phrases and words used in other parts of the country that native Southerners might not be familiar with. Our idioms bring us together as a community, and serve as a source of pride in our heritage.

Don’t delete idioms from your speech. Go ahead and use them, but use the following advice to make sure when you’re talking that you’re also being understood.

1. Be aware of idioms in your speech. Understandably, we might not always be aware that something we say is an idiom and might not be common knowledge for our audience. Take some time to study traditional southern idioms and become aware of when you’re using them in your own speech.

2. Explain yourself to your audience. While it’s perfectly fine to use a saying such as “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” in a business conversation, you should to take a moment to explain what it means to make sure your audience understands the underlying meaning and doesn’t get caught up in the literal words.

The goal is to make sure everyone is on the same page. (And I’m not talking about reading a book!)

For more help recognizing the idioms in your own speech and learning how to use them well and communicate more effectively, contact me at Triad Speech Consultants. I can set up private consultations to listen to your speech and raise your awareness to help you become a more effective communicator.