Bless Your Heart

Text: “Bless your Heart” (folk speech/saying)


G is my father, who was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, who now lives in Salem, VA. His family owned a lot of farmland and they didn’t quite live in Richmond, but about 25 minutes outside of the city. It was pretty rural, definitely not suburban, but there were a few neighbors every once in awhile. He has so many sayings and comebacks and jokes that I have heard my entire life I don’t even know where to begin on asking him about a piece of folklore, but when I asked this is the first one he came up with.

G- “Okay I’ve got one. In my experience, the old saying of ‘bless your heart’ is a kind way of saying to, or about, someone that you are a moron (chuckles)”

Interviewer- When have you experienced this piece of folklore before?”

G- “This is a saying that a good friend of my wife has used in conversations about a mutual acquaintance and her apparent ineptitude. It is used as a way to not openly criticize someone but everyone in the conversation understands the use of it. It is, as kids today would say, a polite way to ‘burn’ someone.”


“Bless your heart” is a versatile Southern American expression that can carry varying shades of meaning. It is commonly employed as a genuine expression of sympathy or good wishes, especially in response to someone sharing a challenge or difficulty. However, its interpretation can shift based on the tone and context. In a positive light, it conveys understanding and support. Yet, when accompanied by a certain tone, it may carry undertones of condescension or pity, subtly addressing someone’s perceived shortcomings. The phrase is known for its ability to navigate between sincerity and subtlety, making it a nuanced part of Southern folk speech. In my experience ‘bless your heart’ or ’bless her/his heart’ has been in a condescending manner in an almost passive aggressive way.