The Northern Southerner: Bless My Heart?

Raised in Washington state, Hannah Norling has never lived in the South before. Now habituating to Alabama, she is experiencing the South for the first time as a resident and documenting the whole thing. Welcome to the Northern Southerner.

Before I moved to the South, I was perusing through the Internet, searching things such as “Southern sayings” and “what is an okra?” Anyway, one phrase in particular kept coming up, “bless your heart”. From my understanding, “bless your heart” is a precursor to an insult, a little something to soften the blow, Southern-style. The funny thing about bless your heart is that I've read about it all over the Internet but I've never heard it used in real life until someone said it to me.

Dun dun dun!

Let me explain.

I had been invited to a going away celebration in downtown Birmingham just around dinnertime. Cars crowded the streets, and spaces were limited. Here I was, driving my little red car around the block, over and over again. When a man on his cell phone started to take notice that I had driven down 1st Ave five times, I called it quits.

The next day I told my co-worker the long-winded story about why I missed her going away party. She put a hand to her chest and said “Oh bless your heart!” Confusion overtook my brain. She was saying it so nicely, but everything I had ever heard about “bless your heart” was negative.

I asked my Southern co-worker if she had just insulted me.

She laughed and explained that depending on the person, “bless your heart” is also used to express sympathy or genuine concern. Mind. Blown. My co-worker was now the National Treasurer of Southern sayings. I was like ... the Indiana Jones of deciphering Southern slang.

From that point on, it was like I was hearing bless your heart everywhere. In the grocery store, in songs, in passing, I swear, if dogs could talk, they would say it too. I took to the office cubes for further investigation of the meaning of “bless your heart” and the findings were split. Alas, no conclusion for the Northern Southerner at the Southern Living office. There is hope though to finding the meaning of bless your heart. It's up to YOU to help me (“bless your heart” if you do?)

Now, Southerners and non-Southerners alike, I'd like to take a poll. What do you think the phrase "Bless Your Heart" generally means? Is it a comforting word pillow before throwing down an insult or is it a genuine blessing on thy heart?

What more from the Northern Southerner? Find it here.

[polldaddy poll=8990918]

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