USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘American South’
Folk speech

“Full of the Dickens” – Southern Saying

“Full of the Dickens”
Full of the Dickens. My grandma used to say that – he is full of the dickens. It means you’re silly, naughty. It was from the south, I think. Honestly, I think you’re full of the dickens, really.

Background
The informant who provided this information was born and raised in Southern California, yet her mother and that following side of the family was from the Southern part of the United States – referred to by her as, “the south”. Her mother and other relatives would use a lot of southern sayings and slang, and she likes to use it when she can, because it makes her think of her family. She also jeers at the collector with the saying, continuing the tradition.

Context
The informant who provided this information is a 52-year-old Caucasian women, born and raised in Southern California. The information was collected while sitting outside her home in Palm Desert, California, on the 20th of April, 2019.

Analysis
I really enjoyed collecting this piece from my mother – it is a saying passed down through the family to her, and now to me! This transmission of folklore is both exciting and characterizing of folklore itself. I think it is really interesting to see the specific things the informant remembers and repeats from childhood – it must mean it stuck out back then as interesting, and has lasted thus far. I do not believe I am “full of the dickens”, but if she characterizes me as such, I very well may be! I think the use of this saying helps her connect back and remember her mother and grandmother, and keeping the saying alive keeps her family alive and memorializes them, in a way.

Folk Beliefs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Dumb southerners

Main piece: A common stereotype is that people from the Southeast are fat, uneducated, racist rednecks.

Context: The informant (S) is originally from Marietta, Georgia, and their lineage traces back to Germany on both sides of their family. They are a high school student about to graduate and head off to Boston for college. They were raised Christian and consider themselves spiritual, but they do not align themselves with any organized religion. Our conversation took place over FaceTime while S cleaned their room and played Tame Impala in the background. S has heard this stereotype of Southerners their entire life, both from Georgians and non-Georgians alike. Interestingly, S even jokes about this stereotype having some truth to it: “When you go to school in the suburbs of Georgia and see people with confederate flag stickers on their cars, it’s hard not to label those around you as uneducated racists!” In all seriousness, S knows many people (including themself) who actively work hard to not become or buy into this stereotype. They want to prove people wrong and change the overall social climate of Georgia.

Personal thoughts: S and I will both maintain that this stereotype has tidbits of truth to it, but even more so than our personal experiences as Georgians, this conception of Southerners has solid historical basis – a quality that not every stereotype bears. To be obvious… the Civil War, in which the South was fighting to keep slavery alive and well. Some people may vaguely argue that the war was about “states’ rights,” but consider what rights Southern states were fighting to maintain – the right to own slaves. It would be naive to think that those age-old mentalities have simply disappeared, especially when almost every Georgian either knows somebody who owns a Confederate flag or owns one themself. One hundred years after slavery came the tumultuous yet impactful Civil Rights Movement, proving that racism never ended with slavery. Even today, lynchings and hate crimes occur way too often in the Southeast. So, while it is increasingly important for Southerners to educate ourselves on social/political issues, advocate for others and fight back against hate groups that give us a bad name, it is also equally important to recognize that these somewhat hurtful stereotypes derive from truth. Instead of getting defensive about them, we must acknowledge the South’s history of racism and subjugation, and prove with our actions that we are working to remedy that painful history.

general

Adams Family Ancestors

Context:

Leighton Lord is my father. Given this relation to me, I was interested in procuring some folklore that both of us participated in, but obviously from his perspective as he and my mother were the ones who set the traditions that we followed. Another unique perspective he has is being instilled in Southern traditions after twenty two years spent in Columbia, South Carolina following his marriage to my mother, a native South Carolinian. He grew up in Delaware, and was fascinated upon arriving in the South and witnessing the obsession with tradition and particularly talk about ancestors. I collected several pieces of folklore from him during a recent trip he made to Los Angeles. He currently practices law.

Transcript:

When I got to the South, my mother and father in law took me under their wing. They’d take me to all these parties with old South Carolina people. At one party this guy comes up to me, says “oh let’s go sit with so and so”…Oh Weston Adams. So this Adams, he starts telling this story about his ancestors, a few generations back. He starts talking about Uncle Jed or whoever, I don’t know. Then the guy that took me over says “no, no, no. We don’t wanna hear about the good Adams’s, we wanna hear about the bad ones. So he tells a story about someone who killed someone over a land dispute or something. I don’t know. The point the guy was trying to make was that they’d rather talk about the good ones, but as long as they’re talking about their ancestors, they’re happy. I always thought that was the most South Carolina thing.

Interpretation:

This example tells of the general folk speech of Southerners. Southerners do love to speak about their ancestors and tell stories like the one my father vaguely mentions about a man of one family shooting a man of another family over a land dispute. The way my father told this made it sound like the story itself was irrelevant. In fact, that Southern story almost feels like a trope. It is even told in Huckleberry Finn. The truth, of course, is a moot point. What is fascinating is that this man is proud of an ancestor for allegedly defending the family’s honor.

general
Humor

Rice and Ancestors–Southern Folk Speech

Context:

Leighton Lord is my father. Given this relation to me, I was interested in procuring some folklore that both of us participated in, but obviously from his perspective as he and my mother were the ones who set the traditions that we followed. Another unique perspective he has is being instilled in Southern traditions after twenty two years spent in Columbia, South Carolina following his marriage to my mother, a native South Carolinian. He grew up in Delaware, and was fascinated upon arriving in the South and witnessing the obsession with tradition and particularly talk about ancestors. I collected several pieces of folklore from him during a recent trip he made to Los Angeles. He currently practices law.

Transcript:

Leighton: What do Charlestonians have in common with the Chinese? They both eat a lot of rice and talk about their ancestors.

Interpretation:

By Charlestonians, my father is referring to people from Charleston, South Carolina. He could not remember exactly where he heard this joke, having heard several versions of it, and even once seeing a cartoon with similar content. This was his simple synthesization. The joke is straight forward, explaining that both Southern culture and Chinese culture appreciate rice and ancestors. Though relying heavily on stereotypes, my personal experience confirms this Southern speech about ancestors. Folk stories of ones ancestors are often told at dinner parties.

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