Posted On January 18, 2016 by Print This Post

Writing as a Southerner by Keri Ford

I’ve known Keri Ford since she was a young whippersnapper.  I’ve always been intrigued by her “Southern-isms,” especially since she lives in Arkansas, and that’s where I was born. I might have shared her captivating way of speaking if I’d stayed in the South. Instead, I literally went to Arkansas to be born, and then returned to the land of the flat Midwestern twang. When I came across an online conversation about writing Southern, I instantly started pestering Keri to write a post for RU on this topic. Being the sweet Southerner she is, of course she agreed. Enjoy!

Thanks, Becke, for asking me here today on Romance University! See what happened was, I made this post:

RU pic keri ford

 

And Becke asked if I’d like to expand on this topic a little. So I thought sure! And then it came time to write and I was a little stumped. See there’s more to Southern language than talking slow and saying, “Grab me a buggy” when you’re shopping instead of that cart business. It’s the charming way we phrase sentences. At least we think we’re charming. To the rest of the folks out in the big wide world, it’s a different c-word. Confusing. It’s the large pitfall to “writing the way you talk” when you’re country folk like I do and am.

That’s not something I want to teach anyone to do because it can be a giant headache when your editor says “this doesn’t make sense” and I stare at it for 20minutes trying to figure out how and where they got confused (see ‘fixing to’ below). In the long run it wouldn’t help you out anyway because my editors go through and make adjustments so I’m more mainstream. And my beautiful cp (bless her) gets hit with the first lines.

So let’s discuss some word choices that will add realism to your southern set book but not all the confusion. Bonus content “FUN FACTS” are included for more information on some words.

Buggy, not cart or whatever other fancy pants terminology you come up with.

Coke, no pop or soda (FUN FACT! Coke is a trademarked word, so as a writer you can’t use a lower case coke as Southerns toss it around or you’re in violation. Pick a specific brand.)

Dinner is a lunch time eating.

Supper is a nighttime eating.

Though, we also use lunch for meaning lunch time too.

It’s a water fountain. Or simply a fountain. Bubbler? No.

Fixing to. (ahem, fixin’ to).There’s no “about to” here. It’s fixing to do something. I’m fixing to go to the store. I’m fixing to make dinner. (FUN FACT: some editors will let me keep my fixing. Others insist on ‘about to’ and make the comment “this doesn’t make any sense. She’s not fixing anything to go shopping.” Me: “…wha?”. Took me a while to puzzle out the literal, dictionary meaning of fixing to comprehend what my editor wanted. YMMV)

If someone says “Gimmie some sugars” they’re seeking a kiss. Usually it’s adults to kids. Mostly women. (aunts/grandmas/moms to little ones in their family or kids of close friends. Men doing it are creepy to me.)

Bell peppers are the large green ones the size of a fist. You can eat them raw without a glass of water to cool your mouth off. Ranch dressing for dipping. Hot peppers are for seriously HOT PEPPERS made for turning your mouth to fire and adding kick to chili. The words ‘hot pepper’ is not a substitute for bells.  (FUN FACT: I learned this one in the making of this post. I can’t imagine why one would risk mixing those two words so willy-nilly….)

Though, we use lunch for meaning lunch time, too.

It’s a water fountain. Or simply a fountain. Bubbler? No.

Fixing to. (Ahem, fixin’ to). There’s no “about to” here. It’s fixing to do something. I’m fixing to go to the store. I’m fixing to make dinner. (FUN FACT: some editors will let me keep my fixing. Others insist on ‘about to’ and make the comment, “This doesn’t make any sense. She’s not fixing anything to go shopping.” Me: “…wha?”. Took me a while to puzzle out the literal, dictionary meaning of fixing to comprehend what my editor wanted. YMMV)

If someone says “Gimmie some sugars” they’re seeking a kiss. Usually it’s adults to kids. Mostly women. (Aunts/grandmas/moms to little ones in their family or kids of close friends. Men doing it are creepy to me.)

Bell peppers are the large green ones the size of a fist. You can eat them raw without a glass of water to cool your mouth off. Ranch dressing for dipping. Hot peppers are for seriously HOT PEPPERS made for turning your mouth to fire and adding kick to chili. The words ‘hot pepper’ is not a substitute for bells.  (FUN FACT: I learned this one in the making of this post. I can’t imagine why one would risk mixing those two words so willy-nilly….)

Random folks do hold open doors for other random people. (FUN FACT! Not always a man gets the door. I frequently get the door and hold it for women or men who are older than me. It’s often held open for me from a younger generation of either sex. I grab it for people with their hands full or if I’m just a step or two ahead. I hold it for whoever is behind me or if someone is coming in the door in front of me.)

Ma’am and Sir isn’t just for people older than you. It’s also a pleasant response for anyone doing a service. Like a teenager handing me food through a drive-thru window. I believe not using ma’am or sir is equal to the cut direct so it’s extremely frustrating for a Southern to be told to stop. Stop making me be rude, follks! (FUN FACT: learning these manners as a kid is serious business. I’m talking hand swipes, cheek pops, hairy eyeballs promising punishment later and all sorts of things. We begin learning these things as babies. Being asked not to ma’am or sir is one of the hardest things I’ve found myself trying to remember in social situations. You might as well ask me to properly speak in a British accent for the duration of our conversation and to remember to use that accent every time we speak in the future. I’m sorry if it slips out. I’m trying to curb my raising for your benefit so please don’t get mad, okay?)

Bless your heart has been covered a bajillionity times. If you don’t know this one, bless your heart.

I run into the occasional person who does drink hot tea. Don’t think I’ve met anyone who adds milk to their tea yet and usually when I mention doing that, people look like they want to vomit by the idea.

Ketchup goes on fries. (Mayonnaise?? My god, do you kill kittens in your spare time?)

If you’re a transplant, we’re going to call you a Yankee. If we like you, it’s an endearment. If not, it’s an insult. (Multiple meanings as with bless your heart.) (FUN FACT! Calling someone a Yankee may be an insult! So with that in mind, the vast majority of people I know would use it just because they know they’re nagging someone.)

Southern, Hillbilly, Redneck, Country and Cajun are all different groups of people, all living in the South but they are nowhere close to being the same group of people. We’re all Southern. Hillbillies are mostly in the mountains. Rednecks and Country Folk are a bit all over and these lines blur a little. I’d say all Rednecks are Country Folk but not all Country Folk are Rednecks. Cajuns are generally in the southern Louisiana region, but just because a person lives in southern Louisiana, that doesn’t make them Cajun. Do your research on this one if you’re going to use one of these words!

I’ll close with a random tidbit for any chef books. I have a friend who eats at my house. She’ll often ask what I put in it. The answer always includes butter, sugar, or butter and sugar.  And you can pry my deep fryer from my cold dead fingers, but I’m gonna haunt you for life.

cupcakesandcrushesKeriFord

Do you have any words or things you’re curious about? Any phrases you’ve come across that left you scratching your head?

Leave me a comment and I’ll pick a winner for a digital book. Winner’s choice between my Turtle Pine series, Cupcakes And Crushes or my upcoming, Tequila And Tingles.

*Many thanks to Ella Drake and Voirey Linger for the assistance in compiling this list!

My next release, Tequila And Tingles (Turtle Pine, 2) Releases January 26, 2016!

TequilaAndTingles300-200x300

Love doesn’t hang around in the shallow end. You have to dive deep for it.

Turtle Pine, Book 2

Tequila shots 1, Beth Revlin 0.

No respectable single mom wakes up in a stranger’s hotel room with no memory of what happened the night before. When Beth does just that, she willingly takes the walk—more like a sprint—of shame, rather than face her humiliation.

Then Mr. One Night Stand turns out to be Mr. New Swim Coach to her five-year-old daughter. Holding her head high and pretending nothing happened seems like a good plan.

Olympic gold medalist Jason Johnson plans to stay in Turtle Pine just long enough to recharge his batteries. But Beth and her painfully shy little girl touch something in the depths of his soul. Besides, he needs to return Beth’s shoes without inciting small-town gossip—and tell her the truth about that night.

Beth can’t deny she’s attracted, but she’s not just guarding her own heart. She’s guarding her children’s hearts as well. If Jason captures them only to walk away, the pain he’ll leave in his wake could be more than she can handle.

Warning: Contains an Olympic swimmer who’s got his strokes down to a science, and a single mom who’s seriously considering jumping into the deep end.

***

Bio:

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Keri Ford brings sexy contemporary romance to the American South. With a sprinkling of men in suits and women in high heels, you’ll most likely find four-wheeler riding, ball cap wearing fellas trying to sweet-talk sundress wearing ladies in Keri’s books. Raised in the country in South Arkansas, Keri shares this flavor of life in her books. Glass of sweet tea at your elbow while you read is not required, but strongly recommended.

Keri is represented by Louise Fury and Victoria Lowes of The Bent Agency. She’s multi-published, including the popular Through The Wall from An Apple Trail Novella Series. Her full length series in Bella Warren, Arkansas continues in 2015 from Lyrical Press. Be on the lookout for a new town—Turtle Pine, Alabama, coming soon! To keep up with this busy author, join her newsletter to catch all her new releases.

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Discussion

47 Responses to “Writing as a Southerner by Keri Ford”

  1. I love to read or hear a Southern character. Southerners seem to have a lot of fun with language and are so creative with it. I definitely wouldn’t want to see an editor take all the fun out of it. I’m not even American, but I’d understand what you meant by “fixing to go to the store”. 🙂

    Posted by Becky Black | January 18, 2016, 12:34 am
  2. Ketchup definitely goes on fries.

    I grew up in Kentucky, and I still think KY is part of the South. If you take UK out of the SEC, then you’ll rock my world.

    One of our expressions is ‘flatter than a flitter.’ Not sure if it’s Southern or just country, but I hear it a lot.

    Thanks for sharing, and I’d love to be in the drawing.

    Posted by Jackie Layton | January 18, 2016, 7:47 am
    • LOL I almost got into SEC but decided not to make any enemies LOL

      I think I’ve heard flatter than a flitter before. I love the number of sayings that float around from area to area!

      Posted by Keri Ford | January 18, 2016, 8:51 am
    • I have a niece who thinks ketchup has its own food group! I must admit, though – there’s a place in Cincinnati called Green Dog that serves aioli mayo with fries and it is AWESOME!

      I’m with you on opening doors for anyone and everyone. Sometimes teenagers seem surprised and do a double-take, but most people are really nice when you hold the door for them.

      I’m fascinated by Southernisms and Texasisms. I think I first heard “Butter my buns and call me a biscuit” from Duffy Brown. That one always cracks me up!

      And I do love “Bless your heart!”

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 18, 2016, 9:44 am
  3. I’m a GRIT as well–girl raised in the south. My editor is Canadian, so we often have the collision of north and south. She’s sure that ‘romped’ on the gas pedal is wrong, and she abhors ‘cutting out the lights” because I see darkness and she sees a romance turning into a murder mystery, but the best one of all times was when my character showed up wearing a toboggan on her head, and she fell down laughing, picturing, not a knitted cap, but a sled on the poor girl’s head.
    Bless her heart.

    Posted by Eden Connor | January 18, 2016, 7:51 am
    • “cutting” oh my gosh. “he cut the engine” “she cut her eyes” “cut off the oven” so many uses for cut than a bloody version! this word needs to catch on!! LOL

      I didn’t know they weren’t toboggans to everyone else until this same scenario happened to me! lots of confusion!!

      Posted by Keri Ford | January 18, 2016, 8:53 am
  4. I had a smile all the way through your piece, Keri — most enjoyable. I’m a transplant living in Tennessee. Most of the southern lingo has become common to me, although most of it I have yet to use. I was surprised that you didn’t mention “sweet tea” though. Trying to get a glass of ice tea without the sugar is a rarity in this state and hardly anyone even calls it ice tea.

    Posted by Glynis Jolly | January 18, 2016, 8:05 am
    • I considered but many places here offer both sweet and unsweet these days!

      I could have mentioned that while people are drinking hot tea, it’s rare to find it hot in a restaurant. I can remember being in Chicago and asking for iced tea and the waiter was confused. he brought me a teacup of hot tea and a glass of ice LOL

      Posted by Keri Ford | January 18, 2016, 8:56 am
  5. Hi Keri,
    Speaking as a southerner, raised in S. FL in a little town that could’ve been water-spouted right out of the Appalachians, your post was right on the button. Loved it!

    ~kristal

    Posted by Kristal Hollis | January 18, 2016, 9:27 am
  6. I loved that you called grocery carts, buggies. I grew up in a small town in the Texas Panhandle. We always said buggy. When I moved to Austin, no one knew what I was talking about. So loved your post!!!

    Posted by Janice | January 18, 2016, 9:34 am
  7. Jackie, when I moved to Cincinnati I felt like I was in the Deep South. I was surprised that a lot of people didn’t even consider Kentucky (south of Cincinnati) to be “real” South.

    My daughter lived in Orlando, Florida for many years, and we decided that you have to ignore the maps: Florida might LOOK like it’s in the South, but there are so many Northerners living there, it really doesn’t qualify as a Southern state.

    I cracked up when I read your comment about milky tea – I married an Englishman, and I’ve gotten so used to drinking tea (black tea) with milk, I have a hard time adjusting to drinking herbal tea without it.

    My daughter was born in Chicago, but she must be a Southerner at heart. She’s crazy about sweet tea! I don’t think she likes grits, though, so that probably cancels out the tea.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 18, 2016, 9:51 am
  8. My grandmother grew up in Massachusetts – now THAT’S Yankee to me! My relatives are scattered all across the U.S., and I’ve noticed all kinds of regional differences in the words we use. I say “faucet” while others say “tap” – but the biggest difference I’ve noticed is tag sale, rummage sale, garage sale. I think there are other words for those, but I can’t think of them offhand.

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 18, 2016, 10:26 am
  9. Native Texan here. Still consider myself a Texan and a Southerner despite not living there for a while. Took me forever to get used to The Frozen North. That said, I agree with the comments above, but would add that the real Texas barbeque I’ve eaten in Texas is more on the spicy than sweet side. My Daddy made his own sauce, but never wrote down the recipe–Dang! Y’all have fun!

    Posted by Ann Macela | January 18, 2016, 11:26 am
  10. You mean people don’t know the difference between a bell pepper and a hot pepper? Who the heck doesn’t know that?

    I just…I just…well, bless their hearts.

    Posted by Keri Stevens | January 18, 2016, 12:08 pm
  11. Arkansas is the South? Growing up as a Florida Cracker, we all thought it was the West!

    No “fixing to” in these parts. That’s for the folks over to yonder in Alabam’

    Posted by Beth Irwin | January 18, 2016, 12:24 pm
  12. I was born in Wisconsin but our family moved to Missouri when I was in the first grade. Except for a couple of years of living in Kansas, I’ve spent most of my life in southwest Missouri.

    My husband was born and raised in a small town about 40 minutes away and has a really, really unusual way of talking. It’s part Southern and part whatever he decides to throw in the mix at the time. He says mowing the yard on a hot day is “exhilarating” when to me it’s exhausting. I used to feel a little irritated because it seemed like a gross misuse of words, but now I just enjoy listening to him talk. As an aspiring writer, his colorful speech reveals another view on the world. When we first started dating, I thought he walked and talked too slow. Now that I’m older, he walks too fast. I’m the one who has slowed down. Funny how life changes how we see things.

    I loved your article and look forward to reading one of your books.

    Posted by Liz R | January 18, 2016, 12:29 pm
    • I have to say Liz, I’ve never found mowing the yard exhilarating LOL I even like driving a riding lawn mower around!

      Posted by Keri Ford | January 18, 2016, 1:32 pm
      • I know! Every conversation with him is an adventure. I’ve started writing down his unusual sayings. I think I know a character (in a story) who might talk a little like that! He has a cousin who “came out with black hair” meaning she was born with black hair. I never that before knowing him either. I think he just has his own language.

        Posted by Liz R | January 18, 2016, 2:12 pm
  13. Hi Keri,

    My friend from Alabama always says ‘mash that button’ whenever we’re in an elevator.

    Great post!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | January 18, 2016, 1:37 pm
  14. Did I miss y’all and all y’all? I distinctly remember those words when we lived in Hot Springs, AR, where my husband was the Oaklawn Park racetrack chaplain each spring. Fun post!

    Posted by Davalynn Spencer | January 18, 2016, 3:26 pm
    • ha! it’s so fun to see extremely common words I didn’t think about including.

      y’all (you or a bunch of you’s) and all y’all (lots and lots of yous) are still around!

      “Y’all want to get something to eat?”

      or

      “All y’all fit on that one bus?”

      Posted by Keri Ford | January 18, 2016, 6:38 pm
  15. Evening Keri..

    My dad was from Georgia and I remember as a kid going round and round about the Coke/pop/soda issue…lol….it was a no-win situation.

    I work in a restaurant though (in Iowa!), and we do get some people who ask for sweet tea….we just give them that sad look…oh honey, this is Iowa…..we don’t do that here…lol

    I do admit to having eaten grits..not liking them, but i did try it!

    thanks for a fun post Keri!

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Peters | January 18, 2016, 8:38 pm
  16. Your article has kept me thinking about other differences in word usages I’ve heard. My family always called the main room in the house the front room (slurred together to sound like fronchroom), but I’ve also heard people call it the living room. We always called that long piece of furniture you sit on the couch, but I’ve heard other people call it the sofa and my husband always calls it the divan. Then there’s pants, slacks or jeans; and panties, bloomers or underwear.

    I’ll be thinking about this all week now. I’d better keep my trusty little notebook handy. LOL

    Posted by Liz R | January 19, 2016, 12:21 am
    • LOL – I was thinking about this, too. I always said “pop” for Coke, etc., but when I moved to Cincinnati everyone said “soda.” Now I’ve shifted to that without realizing it – my granddaughter, who is strictly rationed on fizzy drinks, always asks if she can have a sip of my soda!

      All those other things you mentioned? Try marrying an Englishman! You might think we speak the same language, but sometimes I wonder!

      Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 19, 2016, 12:26 am
    • FUN addition!!

      couch, but I’ve heard other people call it the sofa and my husband always calls it the divan. Then there’s pants, slacks or jeans; and panties, bloomers or underwear.

      my generation here calls it a couch. I think it’s my inlaws that I’ve heard say sofa. I’ve heard my grandma use divan, but it’s not often. she’s often either sofa or sometimes couch.

      Pants are just pants.
      slacks are nice pants.
      Jeans, of course, denim jeans.

      Panties for girls. Underwear for boys.
      grandma though, I’ve heard use bloomers. 🙂

      Posted by Keri Ford | January 19, 2016, 9:11 am
    • oh and, living room too.

      unless a home has a second, less “formal” living space (often called a family room?) that’s usually referred to as a den.

      Posted by Keri Ford | January 19, 2016, 9:12 am
  17. Thanks so much for a fascinating post, Keri! It’s been fun reading all the comments today.

    Commenters – check back at RU to find out who won Keri’s prize drawing!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 19, 2016, 12:28 am
  18. Ann Macela!! Random.org selected you! email me authorkeriford@gmail.com and let me know if you’d like either Cupcakes And Crushes or Tequila And Tingles and what digital format you need (if you don’t know, then just state what your ereader is)

    thanks for commenting with me!

    Posted by Keri Ford | January 19, 2016, 9:18 am
  19. Congratulations, Ann! And thanks again, Keri!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | January 19, 2016, 11:55 pm
  20. Nice blog. Thank you for sharing…….

    Posted by Academic Writing Company | January 20, 2016, 11:59 pm
  21. I loved this post!

    Posted by Joanne | January 23, 2016, 10:48 pm
  22. I loved this post! I live in South Africa where the English (one of 9 official languages!) is more influenced by British English than American, though that may be changing.

    I write books set in the US and your words, expressions and different dialects are always “fixing to” trip me up 🙂

    Some of our words for yours…
    Coke/soda/pop – we would say cold drink. A coke would be a Coke.
    couch/sofa – we would say couch
    shopping cart/buggy – that’s a trolley, folks
    punch an elevate button – we would push a button in a lift
    Lunch is only ever lunch, but supper is a light, informal meal and dinner something more substantial, both in the evening..
    Tea is hot tea, drunk any time of the day, with or without milk (not cream!) or sugar, or lemon. Unless you specifically ask for a herbal variety, what you mean is English Breakfast tea. We have had very sad experiences trying to find real tea in the States, so now we take a box with us when we visit. Iced tea is the horrible stuff that comes in a can.

    We talk about a can of coke, but food comes in tins – a tins of beans or tomatoes.

    We don’t have grits, but a national staple is mielie meal. This is ground corn (which we call mielies) which can either be made into a soft porridge (eaten with milk and sugar) or a stiffer “pap” served alongside meat and doused with gravy or butter and salt. It’s usually eaten with the fingers 🙂
    We call bell peppers “green peppers” -I guess because for the longest time that’s the only colour we got. So I might ask for a yellow green pepper 🙂
    Hot peppers are chillies (2 l’s) and we call hot sauce peri-peri.
    Ma’am and Sir are how schoolkids address their teachers, but it’s not used outside the classroom much.
    We mostly eat tomato sauce (ketchup) on our chips (fries), and we eat biscuits (cookies) or scones – light, sweet confections served with jam (jelly) and whipped ceam and pronounced ‘skon’ (not skone). Jelly is the wobbly stuff that sets in the fridge.
    We wear slacks or trousers or pants, and underneath that panties or undies.
    NB A “fanny” is a woman’s genitals, not her bum! We laugh our heads off when in US programs someone threatens to “swat her fanny” and a “fanny-pack”? Man, how (and where) would one even wear that relative to one’s fanny??
    We speak of car parks (lots), flickers (indicators), windscreens (windshields), and we drive our cars, manual (stickshift) or automatic, on the road. The pavement is where pedestrians walk.
    we get water from taps, and a yard sale would be called a jumble sale. A yard, here, is a courtyard, usually paved or cemented over and carries low-class connotations. We have front and back gardens.

    Given all the differences, it’s amazing we consider ourselves to speak the same language!

    Posted by Joanne | January 23, 2016, 11:19 pm

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