Tag Archives: South

A Proverb From the South/Midwest

“Better than a stick in the eye”

This is a proverb that the informants mother used to repeat to describe something that happened that is only marginally good, usually to put life in perspective. That circumstances aren’t ideal, but that they could be worse. It’s similar to the phrase “better than nothing”. Her mother grew up near St. Louis, Georgia, and rural Illinois in the 40s-50s.

“Better than a stick in the eye”  is a reflection of resilience, perspective, and a pragmatic approach to life’s challenges valued by the community from which it came. It highlights values of endurance, gratitude, and humor as essential tools for navigating life’s ups and downs, deeply rooted in the personal, cultural, and historical context of the time and place from which it originates. Considering the historical context of the 1940s-50s in areas near St. Louis, Georgia, and rural Illinois, this proverb reflects the economic and social challenges of the time. Post-World War II America was a period of significant adjustment, with rural communities often facing economic hardships and societal shifts. It could also predate this time and originate further back to times like the great depression with even worse economic devastation. The saying may sum up the ethos of a generation accustomed to hard work, modest living, and finding contentment in stability rather than excess.

Put some “Backer” on it


The informant, JB, is my father who is 49 years old. My family lives in the same small town I grew up in, Huntsville, TN. I was under the impression that this home remedy was universal until I mentioned it to my college friends, and I was met with bizarre and confused faces. This remedy is not exclusive to my family and is widely known and used in my town.

Main Piece:

Interviewer- Hey dad when I was little, or even now, if one of us got stung by a wasper (wasp).

JB- (Laughs) Yeah, I know it sounds gross, but it works. When you’d get stung, I would get backer (tobacco) outta my lip and hold it on there until it was numb.

Interviewer- Ew, I can still picture it, but it did help. So how did you know to do that, like who taught you?

JB- I don’t remember ever specifically taught. My dad would do it to us as kids and like you said it works so.


To my surprise, the common fix-all that was chew tobacco was not universal, but actually a form of folk medicine. The origin is unclear, but when I searched it on the internet, quite a few websites cited nicotine as a home remedy for stings and noted it strong numbing power. Perhaps I am biased, but this folk medicine screams Southern roots. Chewing tobacco has always been a staple in every Southern man’s daily routine, along with the skoal ring marks in the back pockets of their Levi’s. So, it makes sense that a long time ago a kid was crying over a bee sting and a nearby dad or grandpa thought to apply some “backer” from his lip. This demonstrates the closeness of Southern families, and fathers in blue-collar culture, mine included. Not every type of dad would get the dip-spit out of his mouth and put it on his kid’s sting instead of grabbing something out of the cabinet. However, in the South, specifically blue-collar communities, there is powerful “do it yourself” mentality. This mixed with the extreme closeness and perhaps cultural tolerance for things perceived as “gross”, results in folk-medicine. It is much harder to imagine businessmen fathers having the same first instinct as my father, and all family men in my town.

South of the Mason-Dixon


The Mason-Dixon Line is a demarcation line along on the East Coast that separates four states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and Maryland.


I’ve been hearing this phrase used since I was kid, and adopted it into my own vernacular early on.

Main Piece:

The speaker will make a statement, usually in reference to the superiority or inferiority of a person, place, or thing, and then end by saying “… south of the Mason-Dixon.”


“She’s the prettiest girl south of the Mason-Dixon.

“My grandma makes the best pork chops south of the Mason-Dixon.”

“He’s gotta be the biggest dude south of the Mason-Dixon.”


As a born and raised Virginian, I heard this phrase flung around time after time. The understanding of this phrase is confined to communities living around the Mason-Dixon line itself, as most people not from that region of the United States are unaware of what the Mason-Dixon line is. The phrase is hyperbolic, used to exaggerate and emphasize the statement one is trying to make. Viewing the phrase from an emic perspective, I can say that it is often employed in a comedic manner, often to make disparaging remarks about someone, such as “That has to be the ugliest shirt south of the Mason-Dixon.” The phrase’s meaning and hyperbolic nature is known to all in these regions, so one’s opinion or joke can easily be inserted into the phrase to augment their meaning. Much of the South also has a spiritual connection to the land. Their identities are tethered to the physical nature and landmarks of their home. This may be due to residual sentimentality over the Civil War and the lives lost on the battlefields in the South. Nevertheless, there are a multitude of phrases and bits of lingo in the South that pertain to landmarks and the features of the land that Southerners inhabit. While the Mason-Dixon itself isn’t necessarily in the South, the use of this phrase intrinsically identifies one as belonging to the South.

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.

The University of Mississippi, Football Game Attire

Title: The University of Mississippi, Football Game Attire

Category: Legend

Informant: Evan A. Lewis

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 80s

Occupation: Retired— Radio Broadcaster, Laundry Mat Owner, Koren War Vet, etc.

Residence: 5031 Mead Drive/ Doylestown PA, 18902 (Suburban Home)

Date of Collection: 4/08/18


The tradition of dressing up for football games has been popularized by Southern institutions beginning with University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). While a majority of other schools (USC included) usually wear an abundance of sports gear iconic to the University that the fan is cheering for (ex: Football Jerseys, face/body paint, pom poms, College T-shirts, etc.), Ole Miss students attend games in their Sunday best. Clothing found at these games are often still in the colors of the school but often include items such as: Button down shirts with Kahkis, blazers, suits, ties/bow ties, heels, formal cowboy boots, dresses, pearls, etc. Students wake up early on game days and wear formal attire throughout all tail-gating activities and throughout the football game itself to show support for their team.


The tradition of wearing formal attire to football games is believed to stem from around the late 19th century after the end of the Civil War. At that time, almost the entire undergraduate population of the University was enrolled to fight for the Confederacy. When the Confederate army was called away to fight, the “greys” marched through town as the women and children dressed up in their “Sunday best” to show the men off into battle, knowing they weren’t likely to return.

By the conclusion of the Civil War, almost the entire undergraduate population of the University was eradicated. The university then had to close and restructure their system before being able to re-open. In solidarity for the lost men after the war, on the first football game of the next season, the entire town of Oxford and the student body dressed in their “Sunday best” as they once again sent their football team off into battle against their opponents.

The tradition has remained a part of the University since the late 19th century and the practice is obeyed by students, parents, fans, and even some visitors.

Personal Thoughts:

Growing up, I often participated in this tradition but never knew the story behind it until recently. Both my mother and older brother attended the University of Mississippi. My grandfather was actually “The Voice of the Rebels” on the radio before TV took over. Almost every year, since I was a child, my family would drive into Mississippi for a game and visit old relatives.

It wasn’t until this project that I asked my grandfather why it is that Ole Miss is known for dressing up for football games. Since a majority of Southern schools have since adopted the practice, I wasn’t entirely sure which school started this first. Being the super fans that my grandfather, mother, and brother are, they since informed me of the history and the significance behind the dress code.

The tradition is meant to pay homage to the lives of the soldiers lost during the war. Dressing up is seen as a sign of respect, solidarity, and class.