“And that’s the night the lights went out in Georgia”
“This is a saying that I’ve found is common among mothers and older Southern women. When someone does something that will get them into massive trouble, other people will say, “And that’s the night the lights went out in Georgia.” People use it very sparsely, like in big dramatic situations, not common small things. It’s kind of like the equivalent of saying, “he’s a dead man.””
This informant, HA, was born in Pensacola, FL but has lived in a few different parts of the American South for awhile, specifically the Floribama coastal area. His family has stayed in the south for as far back as he can remember. He has learned this saying from listening to his mother and remembers it from a time a church board member sent a scathing letter about the priest to the congregation and his mother said it.
I talked to HA by inviting them onto a zoom call with a few other friends we both knew from summer vacations where I used to live in Panama City, Florida. After the call I asked if he could stay and chat and we shared stories about our lives while I asked him questions about sayings and activities he remembered from his childhood.
Looking into it, it seems as if the saying comes from a popular country song by Vicki Lawrence that was later popularized in the nineties by Reba McEntire. As this song came out a good amount of years before HA was born, it makes sense that the song and it’s lasting effect on the culture of Southern vernacular fit her age demographic. It gives a great example of just how pop culture can be translated into folklore just as much as folklore is turned into pop culture. It seems like the song is about killing a cheating wife so it makes sense that HA would say it’s like “he’s a dead man.”