How to Speak South Carolinian

By:Kerry Egan

Date:2/7/2017

Spend just a few minutes talking with a South Carolinian and any visitor will notice one thing: The natives have a way with words. It’s not just the honey-rich drawls or sincere friendliness, either. You’ll notice pretty quickly that South Carolinians are natural poets. They play with words and invent new ones as the needs arise. They are funny without meaning to be, soulful without being maudlin, all while just getting you checked in to your hotel or serving your lunch.


Maybe it’s because the cadence of speech is slower here than much of the rest of the country. It gives folks more time to come up with a lovely or witty turn of phrase. Maybe it’s because South Carolinians are just naturally funny people.


But the distinctive speech patterns and phrases aren’t just humorous and poetic. They’re also the incredibly useful and precise, if you know what they mean. In any event, conversations with locals on your South Carolina vacation will be a highlight of your visit. And if you need a little cheat sheet, we’ve included one here:


1. Y’all: Truly the most useful word you’ll hear in South Carolina, it’s the plural “you” that the English language is lacking. “All of you” is too clunky, “everybody” not personal enough, “you guys” leaves out the female half of the world. But “y’all”—so concise, so exact and rolls right off the tongue. It’s the word you didn’t know you needed until you start using it. Bet y’all start using it without even knowing it before you go home.


2. Hey: Second in ubiquity to “y’all” and deeply connected to it is “hey.” It simply means hello. “Hey y’all” means “hello everybody,” but sounds a million times better.


3. Nice to see you: When you meet a South Carolinian, they’ll say, “It’s nice to see you!” Now don’t panic or wrack your brain if you thought you’d never met this person before. It’s entirely possible you haven’t. South Carolinians are always happy to see you, not meet you. Maybe it's because they already think of you as a friend.


4. Might could: Another really helpful phrase invented, “might could” means “that could be a possibility but I don’t have enough information right now to decide.” Ask if you can do something, and you’ll probably hear “we might could do that.” It means the speaker doesn’t quite know if it’s possible or a good idea. It’s a way for the speaker to hedge her bets, or manage your expectations, without letting you down. “I reckon we might could” means things will be a bit more difficult to pull off but are possible. “I reckon we might could think about that” is a bad sign. “I reckon we might could ought to think about that” means it’s impossible. Sorry. Listen for might could’s kissing cousins, “might should” and “might ought to.”


5. Bless your heart: You've no doubt heard this one already. Sometimes it’s an expression of deepest sympathy, concern and compassion. And sometimes, well, sometimes it’s the most cutting thing a South Carolinian can say. How to tell the difference? It's all about the context, y'all.


6. Cackalacky: South Carolina's nickname, used when goofy things happen.


7. Some more Southernisms: So these aren’t phrases or parts of speech that need defining. No, they’re just straight fun. They’re the poetry of South Carolina and are peppered in conversations. Some have been around forever, and some are made up on the fly. That’s why that drawl and slow cadence are so helpful. More time to think. Here are some favorites:

“You sow your wild oats on Saturday, and pray for crop failure Sunday morning.” – Hope your Saturday night antics don't have repercussions.

“That dog won’t hunt.” – Um, no. Bad idea.

“Don’t borrow trouble.” – Keep your mouth shut.

"I'll be there in two shakes of a lamb's tail." or "I'll be there directly." – I'll be right there.

“Butter my butt and call me a biscuit!” – Oh my.


8. And the insults. Oh, the insults. Nobody can fling an insult as hilariously and passive-aggressively as a South Carolinian:

“He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer.” – He's not very bright.

“Visiting with her is like a month of Sundays.” – So boring. So slow.

“He’s like a dog on linoleum.” – He’s a lot of noise with no forward motion. He's going nowhere.

Not sure whether a saying is an insult or not? Well, that’s the genius of South Carolina. It might could be. It just depends.


So when y'all come to see South Carolina's breathtaking natural beauty, explore the rich history and dine on the best Southern dishes, don't forget to listen for the lilting, lovely, rich, humorous and surprisingly precise South Carolina sayings. You'll be able to bless everyone's heart when you get back home.

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