Tag Archives: Southern

Southern-Irish Oyster Dressing


“One family ritual we had growing up for Thanksgiving was that rather than having cornbread-based dressings [for Thanksgiving], we always had oyster dressing… Oyster dressing would have been a standard addition to our Southern-Irish Thanksgiving dinner growing up.”

Minor Genre: 

Holiday Ritual; Traditional Foods


The informant explained in the interview, “My understanding is that [oyster dressing] has roots in my family’s Irish heritage rather than in Southern culture.” The informant grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, in a deep Southern setting, but her family immigrated from Ireland in the 1800s and maintained a strong connection with their Irish roots.


Although the informant believed the oyster dressing was connected to Irish culture, my research indicates that it actually became deeply embedded in Southern cuisine. The recipe was brought to New England from Britain in the 18th century, where it then migrated down the East Coast and took root in the deep South.

I think the most interesting part of this interview from a folkloric perspective is the informant’s belief that their traditional oyster dressing dish originated from Ireland. Although my research indicates the recipe was brought to America from Britain, it is entirely possible that the recipe was brought to the informant’s family from Ireland. The part of the family from Ireland lived in the coastal town of Dungarvan, which is located in one of the counties in Ireland that accounts for the highest production of oysters. Therefore, the informant is not necessarily incorrect in her belief that the recipe originated from Ireland –– though it is also possible that her family adapted the recipe from their Southern environment.

An additional note on oyster dressing is that the informant was specific in saying dressing rather than stuffing. Stuffing and dressing are terms used for the same traditional Thanksgiving dish, but “dressing” is specific to the South, and is the term the informant used before moving to California, where her husband’s family used the term “stuffing.”

“Pride feels no pain”

Text: “Pride feels no pain.”

Minor Genre: Proverb


L explained, “This proverb came down from my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. It was a saying among Southern women, maybe just ladies in general. The context was that you had to put up with pain for beauty; your looks were associated with how proud you were and how you presented yourself.

“Every time my mother brushed my hair when I was little, there were always tangles, and she would say, ‘Be quiet. Pride feels no pain.’”


The proverb “pride feels no pain” has a fairly straightforward meaning regardless of context: it implies that behaving in a manner that fills you with pride is enough to overcome any discomfort you may feel as a result of such actions. It reminds me of the phrase “beauty is pain,” which more directly relates to the idea that discomfort is an inherent part of beauty –– and that pain is a worthy price to pay to feel beautiful. In comparing the two phrases, considering “beauty is pain” as perhaps the more modern counterpart to “pride feels no pain,” it is interesting to consider the implied difference between the words “pride” and “beauty.” The word “pride” carries a more negative connotation for the person it describes, hinting that it is hubris that really disguises pain, while the word “beauty” seems to be used as more of an attribute for a person, and it is the attainment of the attribute that can be a negative experience.

My eyeballs (are) floating out of my head.

-American English saying

-Taylor-Corrine’s translation: ”Gotta pee bad”

My friend, Taylor-Corrine, is from Seattle, WA. While she identifies as Black, she belongs to a diverse familial heritage characterized by African American, Caribbean, Italian, and Native/Indigenous cultures. Perhaps as a result, it’s not uncommon for the most random and/or niche sayings to slip right out of her mouth like they’re a part of common vocabulary, and for me to, of course, have questions. This occurred one day recently, when we accidentally locked ourselves out of our own bathroom at our house. 

She said, “My eyeballs floating out of my head,” and seemed surprised by my confused look before telling me it means she “gotta pee bad.” Taylor-Corrine grew up hearing her maternal grandmothers say the phrase. She joked about her ignorance regarding the saying’s origin, “Ion know if it was some shit from the Great Depression or some Italian shit but my great grandma n great great grandma said it when I was younger.”

While not much seems to be out there on the phrase based on a quick Google search, I found an Urban Dictionary folk definition for the phrase “my eyeballs are floating,” which means “My bladder is full; I need to pee.” Therefore, it is definitely used outside of Taylor-Corrine’s family. Additionally, a list of “The 16 Funniest Southern Expressions” on Destination Tips includes the phrase, “My back teeth are floating,” with “my eyes are floating” as a less common alternative. 

Perhaps, then, the saying emerged in the American South. However, this is unclear. Nonetheless, even without a direct translation and only context, the imagery evoked makes sense for what is being conveyed: one’s bladder is so full, the liquid has leaked and started filling the rest of the body to the point of causing the eyes to float. 

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.

You Can’t Get Blood From a Turnip

Text: “You can’t get blood from a turnip” (Proverb/folk speech)


K is my sisters fiance, they’ve been together for about 9 years so he is pretty much a part of the family already. He lives in Salem, Virginia and grew up right by Salem, in Roanoke County. He often heard this piece from his father or grandfather when asking for money from them as a child.

K- “You can’t get blood from a turnip, you know like the vegetable. My father says this all the time really, I’ve heard it all my childhood and when I was little I never understood what it meant”

Interviewer- What does it mean?

K- “It means you can’t get any money out of someone who doesn’t have any (begins laughing) I would ask my dad for money when I was little and he would say ‘you can’t get blood from a turnip son’…yeah that was always pretty funny”


The proverb “You can’t get blood from a turnip” is an expression used to convey the idea that someone cant extract something valuable or useful from a source that lacks that particular quality or substance. In this case, the metaphorical image is of trying to obtain blood, which is often associated with vitality or essential components, from a turnip, which is a root vegetable with no blood or valuable content. In this particular setting the person was comparing the blood to money and the turnip, their father/his wallet. The saying is often used to emphasize the futility of expecting more than what is realistically possible from a given situation, person, or resource. It suggests that one should not demand or expect something that is simply not present or available. It encourages a practical and realistic approach to expectations and outcomes.