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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I worked primarily remotely for a Southern company for over a decade and it took me a while being all Yankee and Californian, although I live in Oregon, to truly translate!
Haralee, I’m glad you learned Southern-speak. It’s a subtle language, full of hidden meaning! LOL
Love it. Specially that prayer circle. I wonder if my old friends ever pray for me that way. Bless their hearts.
Yes, bless their hearts!
I’m a northern gal living in New Orleans. I’ve learned to use this phrase- especially when Homeless Bobby brings me gifts after dumpster diving. Bless his heart.
It’s the perfect phrase to use for dumpster diving!
Bless this blog no really.
From: Connie McLeod Reply-To: Connie McLeod Date: Sunday, August 11, 2013 8:20 AM To: Thom Harris Subject: [New post] Bless Your Heart
WordPress.com conniemcleod posted: “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 it¹s gonna be good, there¹s pork chops on the breakfast menu and a deer head on the wall.” When we checked out, I not”
I wonder if I, as a Canadian, can find a way to authentically work this phrase into my own vernacular… because it’s SO wonderful!
You can say its something you learned at BlogHer!
I chuckled to myself when I saw the title of this post on my Twitter feed…”bless her little heart”….she’s thinking of her BlogHer friends :)!
You are right Phoebe!
OMG Connie, I love this! As a New Yorker by birth, I totally recognize the big-time attitude inherent in this phrase — and it’s awesome! Thank you for teaching it to me. A highlight of Blogher, for sure! xo
Lois, if we lived closer, we would get in lots of adventures together! We’d be laughing and saying Bless our Hearts all the time!
Connie, as a Southern sista, I laughed my hiney off. Loved, loved, loved this. Really well-done. (Now, back to the beach!)
Lisa, my southern accent often gets very pronounced when I get near water. Maybe it’s all the cocktails that go with being on the water. Im hope you’re having a big ‘ole tall umbrella drink right now for me brought to you by some adorable cabana boy!
Connie, Connie, Connie- you continue to increase my understanding of the south every day. I love you sweety! This time, I am so shocked to hear that you have a prayer circle that happens at your work. That soooo is not San Francisco. I certainly wouldn’t care (to each his own), but some HR person would get an earful- bless their hearts! Love you sista’!
Virginia, let me put the prayer circle in perspective. It was done behind closed doors and they asked the director for permission. Had anyone complained, it would have gone away. I’ve been here 20 years and it lasted less than a year. And yes, with that said, bless their hearts!
My aunt used to say “well, I swan.” I think it was more country than southern. I don’t think she used it as it was intended because every place I read what it means didn’t seem to match her use. She would use when someone would say “Jim is sick again”, she would say, “well, i swan.”
I just figured it was a Jehovah Witness cuss word.
A Jehovah Witness cuss word sounds like a good translation to “I swan”!!
I grew up around “I swan” as a safe, Southern Baptist alternative to “I swear.” “Edith Mae says she’s 29, but I swan, she’s 33 if she’s a day.”
“Bless his heart” was often used for the poor Little Leaguer who couldn’t hit a ball more than a couple of feet–the same kid that everyone prayed the opposition wouldn’t hit the ball to because the kid couldn’t catch. Or throw. But he tried really hard, bless his heart. (These days, I’ve been known to use it in reference to a Braves player in a slump.)
I’ve just realized: Dill in To Kill a Mockingbird is the original “bless his heart” kid.
I never thought of it either, but you’re right!
I’m new to I swan, I’ll have to listen for it!
What you are saying here is similar to asserting that just because someone might say “thank you very much” in a sarcastic way, that this is always how it’s intended.
To say this phrase is merely a passive-aggressive insult is a severe
simplification of both the phrase itself and southern mood.
Please stop perpetuating this idiotic myth that turns people against southerners.
pwrjph, thanks for your comment. It made me write an entire blog post in response. http://conniemcleod.wordpress.com/2014/01/05/bless-your-heart-an-epilogue/