« The Weird Lineup in Pleasant Grove v. Summum | Main | Post-Meat Market Silence »

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Southern for *[email protected]#&!!

Leaving aside any of my own views on Sarah Palin, I must offer a note of translation to those who watched her interview on the Today show, or read about it here.  Palin is quoted as saying the following about her unconventional desire to give a concession speech of her own on Election Night, which was nixed by the McCain campaign:

Ms. Palin said she wanted to introduce Mr. McCain on election night in order to “brag him up,” as she put it, “and do what John McCain just can’t seem to do for himself, bless his heart.”

I don't know how she came by the locution, but Southerners and folks like me who live in the South understand its meaning and, as a public service, are glad to translate it for you.  Here's how one writer describes the phrase:

In the South, we believe in being polite even if it kills us.  So, when we just can't fight the urge to say something nasty, we follow it up with a "bless her heart" just to make us feel better. "Look at that poor woman trying to jog around that track. Her rear-end is dragging a trail, bless her heart."

The title of a book on Southern life gets it about right: Bless Your Heart, Tramp: And Other Southern Endearments.  I think McCain's people made the right call on this one.  Any "bragging up" that is prefaced or followed by "bless your heart" is going to feel just a tad more like tearing down. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on November 12, 2008 at 04:06 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Southern for *[email protected]#&!!:


Like "aloha," the term can mean a bunch of different things. Often the clue is in the inflection of the speaker, and whether it is said *to* someone or *about* someone. If I ask how you are, and you said, "actually, I'm in pain, because I had hip replacement surgery," and I respond, "Gosh, Paul, bless your heart," I mean it. I'm not suggesting that you ought to stop whining. Now if I said, "Look at that guy trying to dance. Bless his heart," I likely mean "that guy cain't dance a lick." Or it can mean "gosh, he's trying, and good for him." If I were saying it slowly and with a smirk, the former meaning is probably intended.

Posted by: Southern Pedant | Nov 19, 2008 11:59:01 AM

Sarah Palin needs to go away.

Posted by: Hillbilly Lawya | Nov 13, 2008 11:51:08 AM

Just to clarify -- I don't think the line "bless your heart" was in Palin's speech, and therefore don't think the campaign declined her offer to give such a speech on that basis. I was just saying that when someone uses the phrase "bless your heart" in the course of making a statement about you, Southern linguists would suggest that it may mean something slightly different than, well, bless your heart.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Nov 12, 2008 11:18:53 PM

It's not just a Southernism. It might be bit demeaning, however, and the phrasing does strike me as a bit odd ("can't do for himself"). The appropriateness of the comments would stand or fall on delivery.

I seriously doubt the campaign nixed her concession speech based on that line. In the long term, she will be glad she didn't concede anything, and will be glad that McCain fell on the sword, accepting full responsibility.

If the point of this post is to highlight the possibility that Palin harbors some sense that McCain didn't fight as hard as he could have--- duly noted.

Posted by: AndyK | Nov 12, 2008 11:03:27 PM

Amen. This is an oft used phrase by some Christians I know as well -- an attempt to add a note of charity to soften the preceding insult.

Posted by: Box 1581 | Nov 12, 2008 7:42:22 PM

Speaking as a true southerner who often uses the phrase, not all of us do so with snarky undertones . . . at least not all of the time. ;-) Sure, some do, but let's take care not to make sweeping generalizations or grand assumptions about all southerners.

Posted by: anon | Nov 12, 2008 6:00:13 PM

Jason, it does strike me as odd that she adopts what I am treating as a Southern phrase. But remember, she has traveled all across this great land. Maybe she picked it up on the hustings....

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Nov 12, 2008 5:05:02 PM

Doesn't it strike you as odd to explain a statement from someone from ALASKA in terms of a Southern perspective? You don't get much more un-Southern than Alaska, it seems to me.

To put the point more bluntly, as a Northerner who lived in the South for a while, I was constantly struck by the notion that when I said things like "bless his heart," I meant it, while my Southern counterparts (or most of them) did not. The odd sort of hypocritical code by which many in the South seem to live was totally foreign and uncomfortable to me and, I suspect, to someone like Sarah Palin . . . bless her heart. :-)

Posted by: Jason Kilborn | Nov 12, 2008 5:01:06 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.