Date: Sun, 26 Oct 1997 01:43:36 -0400


Subject: Blessings and other southern euphemisms

All this talk about blessing has reminded me of what seems to me to

be a very strange usage in this area.

In my experience (pre-southern) expressions like "bless his heart"

were used by old ladies when talking about a child who had done

something good: "He brought me a flower from the garden, bless his

heart." There was no question that the expression was positive.

Both in Florida and here in Georgia, I began noticing the phrase used

more widely, by younger people, although still mainly female, in

somewhat more ambiguous contexts, like "He's won the doorprize for

the third year in a row, bless his heart." I took it to mean

something like "the lucky stiff" until I started noticing "bless"

being used as a euphemism for "curse": "That student really blessed

me out over the grade I gave her." This is much less common than

"bless his heart," but I've heard it from maybe half a dozen women,

but no men. Given this usage, I'm inclined to think that "bless his

heart" means something closer to "damn his bones" -- a statement of

resentment rather than pride.

Somewhat similar might be the very common use of "I love him to

death, but" (from women) and "He's a good Christian, but" (from men

or women) as a prelude to vicious criticism, behind the target's

back, of course. Note that it's not the criticism that is unusual,

but the strange apology.

And last, both in Florida and Georgia there seems to be a taboo

against the word "swear" in the sense of an oath. Using profanity is

"cussing" or (high style) "cursing," never "swearing," but I was

surprised to hear statements like "I didn't touch the pie, I

promise," instead of "I swear." To me "promise" can be used only for

future events.

Has this stuff been studied?


David Johns

Waycross College

Waycross, GA 31501