How Colloquialisms Get Started


I went shopping today for some clothes. I have put it off for a long while. Seems I’ve spread a bit more than I would have liked since retiring, so I can’t satisfactorily shop in a regular store anymore.

I’m short and wide so I have to go to the specialty shops. I’m not going to name the one I went to, because they are just trying to do their job…but you may also know it as the fat lady’s store.

So I go inside and bright young lady asks me if she can help me.

“Yes, I’m looking for pants with an elastic waistband.” (Notice I didn’t say, “Britches.”)

“We don’t have any pants with elastic waist bands. We only have regular pants. All of our pants have zip closures and belt loops.”

Now, I’m thinking…If you can’t find pants with an elastic waistband in the fat lady’s store…where in the hell are you going to find them?

So I told her I would just look around.

A few minutes later, I came across an entire section of pants with elastic waistbands. I called her attention to them.

“Oh!” she says. “Those aren’t pants.  That’s our active wear.”

“Well, aren’t they pants with elastic waistbands?”

“No, not at all,” she says, “it’s all active wear.”

Yes, she was blond…just like me, but I don’t think that was the whole problem. She’s been trained to flatter fat women. “Active Wear” is so much nicer than “Fat Lady Clothes” don’t you think?

It sort of made me feel like I have graduated to the Tupperware of the clothing industry.

Now, I ended up spending nearly three hundred dollars in their store on bras, and active wear, so it didn’t hurt and maybe it helped. Now I can tell people I wear active wear and it will sound like I’m trying to do something about my weight gain.

It did make me think about our southern colloquialisms and how they get started. You can Google southern colloquialisms and get tons of funny words and phrases. These are words and phrases I grew up with. I know proper English, but when I get out among a crowd of other southerners I speak just like they do.

When I write some of my characters in southern lit, I write them with dialect. That can make issues when your beta readers are Yankees, Californians, or Brits. We do have an understanding though…for the most part.

Delilah S. Dawson from Rosswell, Georgia has a great post on how to write a kick ass southern gothic tale here on Chuck Wendig’s site.

Here are just a few of the daily speech quirks you will hear in my house. Not the hilarious metaphors and similes you hear everywhere…just a few routine phrases.

“I’ve never done that before, but I might could.”

“Don’t be sharing this with nobody, but I hear tell he’s getting married.”

“She’s right smart.”

“I used to could turn cartwheels all over this yard.”

“I had dinner on the table before he got in the door good.”

“I’m sick at my stomach.”

Instead of “hand that to me,” or “pass that to me,” we say “reach that to me.”

“I reckon he will.”

Bedclothes = sheets/linens

Britches = pants

Y’all think on it and get back with me.

Do you write regional dialect?

60 thoughts on “How Colloquialisms Get Started

  1. My aunt used to say stepin’s for underwear and I had a friend who asked me to alter some pants for her and when I told her what she wanted done was not feasible. She said, “Just step inside this waistband here and….” Well, I’m sure YOU get it! LOL! I may need to pick up some active wear after my summer of eating out almost daily!

  2. I grew up in Florida, but I never heard anyone talk like this! “I’m sick at my stomach?” Lol, I guess every southern state has its own brand of slang.

    The colloquialisms here in Panama are hysterical. I was meaning to post about it for some time and now you’ve reminded me.

    Thanks for the laugh!

    • I grew up in GA but live in Florida now. The old timers here speak just like I do, but the young people and the newbies bring their own flavor from where ever. Mix in the Spanish, Patois and Jersey speak and you have a good sangria going.

  3. Sounds like when I went to buy a new suit. They called it the ‘Executive Cut’. The description he gave me reminded me of Middle Earth dwarves. Can’t say I use regional dialect since I don’t use Earth as a setting. I probably have some that are in my own repertoire and I take for granted.

  4. I love this. I’ve told people I’m not over weight, I’m just not tall enough. I may have to add a few of those colloquialisms to my Wisp story. I don’t want to overwhelm it, but it’s set in Virginia.

    • Oh, definitely Virginia…just Google it. There’s some really funny stuff. It’s hard not to know what is cliche and what is not unless you live around here. Some is old and some is new.

      Now I feel like I should take up jogging or Pilates…or something.

  5. Oh my, some of those speech quirks would make a grammarian shudder. 😉

    I grew up in North Dakota where “You bet” ran freely. Cross over to Minnesota, and you could hear a “You betcha” or two (though not as frequently as the movie and TV show Fargo would have you believe). I’ve also said plenty of “oofda”s in my time. In fact, I think I still do…

    Active wear–the fitness nut in me sure likes the sound of that. 🙂

  6. Now you’re speaking my language 😉 Although I try to speak as correctly as possible, my accent does deepen when I’m in the homeland. And you’re right about nailing the phrases in writing; characters just aren’t believable otherwise.

    • It does irk me to read southern lit that just isn’t correct, and we do have our way of being correct. When I read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and that New Yorker said chigar instead of chiggers…I nearly died.

  7. This was funny and interesting, too! I am always interested in how people speak in different parts of the country, and that found its way into my writings, too. The only one colloquialism I can think of at the moment is how people in the Dakotas identify non-homemade food: They are “boughten.” Not “store-bought” as I would say.

      • Yes, it does make sense. I found that term mostly used among the old timers — people who grew up before The War. Now that I think of it, living in Florida now poses new challenges for me. I’m a native Illinoisian. It’s almost a different language here in the panhandle. Buggy? Down here that’s what I know in Illinois as a grocery cart. Back in Illinois, buggy is either a baby buggy, or “I can’t be outside tonight; it’s too buggy.” (Too many mosquitoes and chiggers outside.) Ha! 😀

        • I am trying to look at the positive and think marketing, branding…but I seriously started to leave the store. The only thing that prevented me was needing bras.

          My British friends don’t even want to start with the buggy…that’s a trolley. And transfer trucks are lorries. Funny how we are in the same country and still there is a tremendous amount of regional dialect.

  8. Great post! When we moved to SW Virginia, I had to learn the language. It’s incredible how seductive y’all can be. I never even noticed that I was now saying “upside the head”, or “was it a snake, it’d a bit ya”. Now living here in the UK, a mention of “pants” would get sniggers, as that’s what is worn under trousers—or, if you’re of the female persuasion and someone mentions pants, the knickers you wear might get in a twist.

    • Hahahaha! I was in therapy once and my female therapist from somewhere up north asked me if I realized my speech was seductive and most everything that came out of my mouth had sexual undertones and innuendos. No, I hadn’t, I was just everyday talking about everyday things like food, cooking, ballgames, children, my job. Nothing sexual had even occurred to me.

  9. This post made me chuckle a bit 😀

    It’s strange, my sister found a post on a blog about sayings in Bristol that only people in Bristol ever say! It’s interesting to see how language can change so much from region to region, and I do have to remember to cut it out when I write! 🙂

    • But yet we are all speaking English! Must be a bugger to have to try to learn this thing. I thought about that last night. If it’s hoof and hooves, why isn’t it roof and rooves?

  10. Fun post. The Philadelphia/S. Jersey area has its own peculiar words and phrases, such as “down the shore,” for going to the beach.

    Enjoy your “Active Wear!” 😉

  11. I love “regional dialect”!!! I think it tends to slightly flavor a lot of my writing with a bit of “folksiness.” (Is that a word?) I’m originally from southwest Michigan where there are a lot of lakes, but mainly people who live in the interior mean the little lake they live on or the one in the next neighborhood when they say the lake. When people mean Lake Michigan, they say “The Big Lake.” I love that.

  12. I struggle to write regional dialect. It’s something I really need to work on because it shows a lot about a character and it would add to my work, I think. I really enjoyed the post – ‘she’s right smart’ made me smile. I’ve heard that a time or two. My daughter picks up dialects and colloquialisms from all over the place. For a while she said ‘will I?’ instead of ‘should I’ – it can be fun 🙂

    • Oh yes! It’s the perfect way to give your characters character.

      We have such a diverse population down here in Florida that you have to mix, not only regional dialects, but foreign languages as well.

      Thanks for stopping in, and keep making writing fun 😉

  13. When we first moved to SC, someone told me they had to carry their mother to the doctor. I said something about her being to sick to walk on her own and they looked at me like I was crazy!

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