My sweetie and I went to breakfast at a place we had never been before. When we sat down, he said, “you know this is classic southern and it’s gonna be good, there’s pork chops on the breakfast menu and a deer head on the wall.” When we checked out, I noticed the avocado-green-wall-mounted phone and above it the photo montage of a fishing trip next to a big mounted fish. Next to the fish was framed artwork of Scarlet and Rhett at Tara. The grey-haired lady behind the cash register who had obviously just had her weekly visit to the beauty parlor had friendly eyes and was smiling. She handed us our change and left us with “have a good day and bless your hearts”.

I saw this floating around Facebook. A young white man with dreadlocks won the right to wear a colander on his head in his driver’s license photo in the name of religious freedom. My immediate thought was, “well, bless his heart.” That translates to, what a f’in idiot.

Same phrase and two different meanings.

I say it all the time, just like I say y’all and fixin’ to. I jus’ cain’t hep it, I’m a true daughter of the South, plus I was raised Southern Baptist (a double whammy). I was in Chicago recently with women from all over the country and tried to explain the meaning of this quintessential southern phrase and how useful it is.  The obvious meaning is like the sweet lady at the cash register, the literal meaning, truly a heartfelt blessing. If you hear bad news about someone, “did you hear her mama is sick again?” You may say “bless her heart,” because of all the burdens you know she carries.

But more often than not, it’s a southern passive aggressive insult. A conversation may go, “I ran into Betty Lou yesterday, ya know about that drinkin’ problem…” you then look knowingly into each other’s eyes, and say together, “bless her heart.”

Sometimes, you just say a name and a bless your heart will express all you need to say. And if someone says something really tacky to you like, “I can tell you don’t believe in plastic surgery or you’ve quit coloring you hair,” you can respond with a pat of their hand and say “why bless your heart honey.” They will understand that you are not to be messed with—in southern-speak you just told them to “F off”.

I was reminded that my office had a group that gathered early every morning to start the day with a prayer. I was not included in this group. I heard that they talked about everyone in the office and then said a prayer. It went like this. “Let us pray over our Sister Connie, ya know she divorced her husband and is now on the Internet dating men.” Holding hands everyone in the prayer circle makes eye contact and says together “bless her heart” and at this point there may be more prayer needed. None of the women who were in this prayer group work there any longer…bless their hearts, wherever they are.

I say it often and because I write like I talk, I also use it often in my blog posts. If you ever need me to explain if I’m being kind or tacky, just ask.

On second thought that kind southern lady at the restaurant may have really been saying, ‘Thank God you are finally finished, it’s Saturday, we’re only open for breakfast and as soon as this place clears out, I can go home. So here, take your leftover biscuits in that butter-soaked napkin and get the hell out of here.”


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