Bless our hearts

I thought the Yankee or Dixie Dialect quiz had disappeared forever, but some kind soul has resurrected it here. (Thanks, Andrew.)

In February, 2004, I scored 72% Dixie. Today I got 70%. Am I doomed to lose 2% more of my semi-native tongue with every year I stay in the Northeast?

Longtime readers will have picked up on my obsessive fascination with Southern and Texan expressions. (They’re two different things, and I’m far more conversant in lower-class Texas-speak than in the nuances of middle-class Mississippi conversation.)

But at lunch the other day, a friend who hails from D.C. but has a Louisiana mama reminded me of one of the Deep South’s most beloved, multi-purpose, and deadly expressions: “bless her heart.”

In its most innocuous usage, the phrase is intended to express empathy and understanding, as in: “Why, you’ve been traveling all day. You must be exhausted, bless your heart. Why don’t you go lie down until it’s time for dinner?”

But like most things Southern (except sweet tea), the expression has a dark side. Basically, you can say the most slanderous thing you can think of, as long as it’s accompanied with a lingering, mournful “bless her heart.”

Hearts are blessed like crazy at Southern brunches and bridge parties. One woman might turn to another over a slice of pie and say, “Bless her heart, Mary Lou still has no idea her husband is running around with that car wash girl.”

And the other might sigh sympathetically and remark upon Mary Lou’s pregnancy weight, bad haircut, foul breath, and crazy third cousin half-removed on her mother’s side — not to mention her failure to write timely thank-you notes, the fact that she has served her husband dinner on paper plates, and the suspicion that she once murdered a man. It’s all considered perfectly polite, as long as the poor woman’s heart is blessed with each new indictment.

All this heart-blessing is much too catty for my tastes, under normal circumstances. But in emergencies, the expression has its uses.

Which brings me to my point: bless our hearts, maybe we can figure out how to roll a Hungry Man dinner, a six pack, and the latest John Grisham novel into a little pill so that we don’t have to get off our fat asses for any reason at all.

Or, as a New Jersey-born friend once said, “It’s not just us, right? The whole world’s gone crazy, right?”

(I’m no exception. In fact, I may be worse than the Wegmans shoppers. I shop online for everything, including groceries.)


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