“Bless his heart!” is a Southern phrase used to mean everything from:
- If he were any stupider, he’d be a stump.
- Also known as, “When God was handing out brains, he was at the back of the line.”
- If she were any uglier, little children would run screaming.
- Also known as, “She was beaten with the Ugly Stick.”
When Southerners are little boys and girls, we learn the more direct insults. But then our parents beat us to within an inch of our lives with a hickory stick (not literally, that’s another idiomatic phrase), and we learn to be more respectful. Some of us take longer than others to learn the lesson, and have more bruises on our behinds to prove it, but most of us eventually learn that we can say, “Bless his heart!” without any painful side effects.
Why are Southerners more likely to likely to greet you when walking past?
I’ve been in California for 3 months now, and I am appalled when I walk down the hall at work. My coworkers avert their eyes, as though they must—MUST—not acknowledge my presence. At first, I thought maybe the company had gone a little overboard with Sexual Harassment Training. After all, a good way to avoid getting trouble with a female coworker, is to not look at her. But then I realized that even the ladies would look right past me. This happens on the streets, too. Hmmm, must not be the training; it appears to be a cultural behavior.
I mentioned this to one of my female coworkers, who always smiles a big smile and makes eye contact when she sees me coming. She moved from Dallas about two years ago; she’s good people.
“My theory is population density,” she wisely informed me. “See, in the South, people are more spread out, and there are smaller towns. So the people that you pass by, you see all the time, and there’s a small number of people in that group. Conversely, in a large city such as San Diego, there are a LOT more people. Therefore, it’s more difficult to greet everyone and to know everyone. If you tried to say hi to everyone, you’d never get anything done! You’d spend all day making small talk.”
AH! That makes sense! The small town in Louisiana where I attend middle school and my first two years of high school was Sulphur, Louisiana. At the time, Sulphur had a population of 20,000 people. While I didn’t know everyone (obviously), I saw the same people at church, school, and around the neighborhood. Plus, contrast that with the 1.4 million people in San Diego. That’s .02 versus 1.4 million. Sulphur had less than 1.5% of the current population of San Diego. Yep, that’s a BIG difference!
Another way of looking at this is, imagine you live in that small town. You have a fight with Millie, the baker’s daughter. At church, your mom says, “How come you ain’t sayin’ hi to Millie like’n you usually do?”
You can blow her off by asking, “What’s for lunch, Momma?” But it’s your Momma; she’s going to find out eventually.
“Daryl told Emma Jean who told Bobbi Jo who told Elvin that you crossed the street to avoid her on Friday after school,” your sister will not-so-helpfully offer.
Brother chimes in (because this is the South and we believe in having large families), “She gave you the Evil Eye when you wurtn lookin’, too.”
Then your other sister will add, “I heard from Kelvin who said that Millie stole your beau.”
And if you manage to wiggle out of that conversation, you’ll see Millie at school the next day. And at the grocery store. And at the church picnic. It’ll get to the point that it’s either the Hatfield and McCoys (i.e. a blood feud that lasts generations and involves a few gun fights), or you make the peace.
Face it, making the peace is easier. So you may end up making a statement like this, “Millie, I’m sorry that I blew spit wads at you in class after you talked to Jimmy. Even though I had my eye on him, I had no true claim—I mean, I didn’t brand him like a cow or anything—so let’s just be friends, ok? Momma made some peach cobbler, come on over.”
And so, Southern people are friendly because they can (low population density) and must. ‘Cause you see the same folks all the dang time, so to the keep the peace you smile and say nice things. Bless their hearts!
This post was in answer to a question from Dr. Gary Lum, “Why are Texans so friendly?” If you’d like me to answer your question, email JulesRulesStrawberry@gmail.com. My specialty is dating advice, but I have opinions and theories on just about everything. Thanks, Gaz, for the question!
Next up: a summary of all the places I’ve visited in San Diego. There’s a long list, my friends, because I don’t like to sit still!
Be good. And if you can’t be good, be good at it!