Monday, October 22, 2007


In my previous post, my good friend and Memphis "Go-To-Guy" (MR) expressed a bit of amusement at my use of the term "mama 'nem." Likewise, in another post, my use of the phrase "ripping and running" caught the attention of my Detroit-based internet pal, Malcolm (of Malcolm's Pop Culture Dish). I'd dare say, by now most regular readers of the OLD SCHOOL MIX have noticed my indulgence and delight in the "colorfulness" of the Southern Black vernacular. While I am quite capable of expressing myself in the "King's English," whenever I can get away with it, I generally opt to go another route.

There have been occasions in the past when my word choices have proved slightly problematic, particularly for those readers (and listeners) unfamiliar with my Memphis brand of Southern Ebonics. So I thought it might be fun, if not somewhat educational, to post a list of words and phrases I've heard used by African Americans who hail from Memphis and/or the Mid-South tri-state area (specifically SW Tennessee, NW Mississippi & NE Arkansas).

Oh, I bet some of y'all thought all Black Southerners chewed up and spat out the language in much the same way, huh? Yeah, well, while some things carry over, there are quite a few regional differences. For instance, the folks from East Tennessee have more of a noticeable "twang" in their "thang" than those who hail from West Tennessee. On the other hand, a lot of Memphis folks are known for what my friend MW, a communications instructor, describes as a "mumble."

Anyway, let's get to the list. How many of the following words and/or phrases do you know? How many do you use? I'll give my own definitions and responses in a future post.

1) bourgie

2) chillren / chilluns

3) Christmas gift

4) deef

5) haint

6) hainty

7) hey

8) holped

9) knee baby

10) main / mane

11) Mama 'nem

12) mannish

13) rougish

14) sadiddy / saditty

15) scound-bugga

16) sho' nuff

17) slobbed

18) Sunday week

19) trifling

20) you (s) a tale / tail


MR said...

I’ve heard most of them. Use some of them. Don’t know a few and can’t wait for your explanations! The one that gets me grief from my North’ren friends is “fixin’ to”. I’m glad you listed “holped”. That made me think of my grandmother (Nannie Mae). She used holp, holped, and holpen a lot. It was sweet that something so out-of-the-blue made me think of her.

Lori said...

Hey MR,
Yes, there's "fixin to" but don't forget "finna." (smile).

And good ole "holp." Like your grandmother Nannie Mae, my 90 year old granddad uses that word all the time.

So how come you didn't say which ones you didn't know?

MR said...

Don't be trifling! I ain't never heard tell of "bourgie", "knee baby", "scound-bugga", nor "you (s) a tale/tail". Let me see if I can make a guess. Bourgie = Bourgeois; Knee baby = a baby still small enough to bounce on your knee; Scound-bugga = a scoundrel; You(s) a tale = same as you're a trip. How'd I do?

Malcolm: said...

My mother was a transplanted Southerner (from GA) and she used to say "holped", "mannish", and "trifling". She used a variation of #20 (she would say "yous a liar".

If she was mad at a female family member, she would sometimes refer to them as "gal" or "heifer". Some of the other ones she used not on your list are "zank" (for sink) and doll baby.

Lori said...

All of your guesses were right, except "you's a tail/tale. That means you're lying or you're a liar. You win you're very own Ebonics card (smile).

I like your Mom's style. And for the record, "heifer" is a good word to use even when you're not mad (LOL). I think I've heard "zank" before, but not too often. "Doll baby" is kinda cute.
I'm kind of surprised though that both you and MR are familiar with the word "holped." Thanks for weighing in.

Emanuel Carpenter said...

You are really bringing back some memories for me. My parents grew up in Memphis and brought some of that language with them. And when my parents used to drive us seven kids down to Memphis every summer to see our Big Momma and Big Daddy, we had a ball laughing at all the language differences. My mother would ask where Emanuel at? And Big Momma would say, "Yonduh he stands." I'm like, what's yonduh?

So I knew most sayings and words you mentioned here. If girls were 'fass' (I know it's spelled wrong) then boys were mannish.

I remember when Big Momma used to call all soda pop Coke, no matter what brand. "Bring me a Orange Coke," she'd say.

My dad used to say "dewin" which was like a variation of darn. Bring me 'dem dewin shoes.

Don't forget finah or fixin' na. "Where you going?" "I'm finah go to the store."

My mother used to say when I asked her if dinner was ready "Done or raw, it'll do the chaw." I think chaw was supposed to mean chore but of course it didn't rhyme so chaw was used. She had a million of them.

Big Momma, Big Daddy, and Momma have all passed away now but I should sit down with my dad and ask him some more of those old Memphis sayings.

Okay one more thing, not really a phrase though. When my pregnant wife and I were in Memphis last year and we told everyone when the due date was, every starting calculating the conception date and saying out loud like, "Oh so ya'll made that baby in November huh? I was born in November so I was probably a Valentine's Day made baby."

Thanks for the post and the memories.

(Please forgive me, no time for spellchecking.)

Lori said...

Well all right! Memphis is in the house y'all (smile)!

Speaking of "y'all" one thing that truly irks me is when my otherwise well-spoken husband (folks who don't know him have a hard time accepting that he is indeed from the South) uses the word "y'all" in the singular sense. He'll call home and ask me "How y'all doing?" I'm like dude, my name is not Sybil, I don't have 5 & 6 other folks living up in my head . . .

Anyway, you mentioned some good ones. Yes, everything is a "Coke" or a "drank." Your comment about an "Orange Coke" is too funny. But people will ask you in a minute, "What kinda Cokes y'all got?" (LOL)

I've heard the word "yonder" but "dewin" is a new one on me. I'll have to run that one by the hubby.

You really should ask your Dad about some of those old sayings. Tape him if possible. One of the best things I ever did was sit my grandmother down with a tape-recorder and record her memories and stories about our family.

Good stuff. Thanks for sharing.

Janet said...

2) chillren / chilluns: kids

4) deef: deaf

5) haint: ghost

6) hainty: scary

7) hey: hello

11) Mama 'nem: mama and them, meaning the family

12) mannish: a woman with manly features

13) rougish: a tough

14) sadiddy / saditty: stuck up

16) sho' nuff: sure enough

19) trifling: no good

Most of the black southernisms I know are from NC/VA.

Lori said...

Hey Janet,
You're good! All of your guesses were right except for "hainty" and "mannish."

While a "haint" is indeed a ghost.
"Hainty" (also spelled haintey and hincty) means stuck-up, arrogant, or haughty.

Of course one definition of "mannish" is the one you mentioned (smile). But the one I was looking for has to do with a boy or male teen who is trying to act older than his age or who is doing things a grown man might.

Thanks for adding your voice and expertise to the "Mix."

Michelle Davis Petelinz said...

And, isn't 'smellin' himself' another way to say mannish?

My people were from Virginia and North Carolina, so not every phrase was familiar.

My own list would include:

CP time

Ain't used to nothin'


Boardinghouse reach

Thanks for the memories, and the education!

pjazzypar said...

Both of my grandmothers are from Georgia so I have heard a lot of the southern phrases, some of them I still use when I am among us. I love "nem", "finna" and we all know someone who has a "knee baby" or an "arm baby" for that matter. What about "BeBe" and "hank"? Have you ever heard someone referred to as a hank? Anyway this list really took me back to my roots.

Lori said...

I've never heard of "boardinghouse reach." Come back and give us a definition. I think I know, but I'd like to be sure before I start using it (smile).

I've heard of "BeBe" as a person's name. Also, a way of saying "baby." Do you have another definition? If so, do share.

"Hank?" Is that another version of "haint?" A "haint" as every good Southerner knows is a ghost. Or is "hank" a version of hainty (or hincty")? When someone is acting all hainty, they're being arrogant, stuck-up, haughty. Am I close? (smile)

pjazzypar said...

BeBe was a term of endearment before Robin Harris's stand up act and I don't know what a hank is, but I think your later definition of stuck up sounds good.

Michelle Davis Petelinz said...

Boardinghouse reach was a favorite of my grandpa's as he extended his arm across the table to grab the greens....much to my very proper grandmother's dismay (it was all done with a smile, since of course he knew better!)
He always said it came from folks who lived in a boarding house, and who took their meals together--if you didn't use the 'boarding house reach,' you didn't eat, since nobody was passing the bowls around--you had to take what you wanted!

Anonymous said...

Lovely! I'm from central MS, and my parent's are old as dirt ;-), and some of thier grand parents language stuck with them. My father is the baby of 11 "chullins" as they say (he's in his mid 60s). I'm 100% sure that my father's grand father was a slave(they took young brides then)and that broken English stuck with that entire family. It goes:
"A-rite-strong" = "moving forward, presistat, or strong willed"
"schoollin"= "becoming educated"
"hussy" (huzy)= derivative of "heifer" a cunning/sassy female.
"wanych" pronounced (wayne- cha) means about the same as the above stated, but is used in a derrogatory fashion.
"wangs"= wings
"magetties"= spagetti
"sugkah" = an affectionate term.
"hollin"= hollering
"cleiz-day"= "clear as day", a revalation.
"doughwz"= doors
"reckin"= i assume
"showl-iz"= it sure is
"magin"= can you imagine, or "i think"
"hoopin and hollin"= fussing
"cay-in on"= constantly
"ret nah"= right now
...etc too numerous to name. I am greatful to have seem such a historical portion of our black culture unfold.