God love you, we hope they're never aimed at you.
It’s true that Southerners can add “bless her heart” to the most negative remark imaginable and make it sound genteel, even kind and sympathetic, as backhanded compliments go: “She couldn’t bake a decent pecan pie if her life depended on it, bless her heart.”
But sometimes, we’re actually sincere when we bless the heart of another. For example, this Southern saying can be a genuine expression of sympathy: “My sweet Sissy fell off her bike and skinned her knee, bless her heart.”
Or we might use it to show gratitude: “Oh, honey, you mowed the lawn for my party, bless your heart!”
The sincerity or sarcasm of “bless her/your heart” is determined by the circumstances and revealed through facial expression and vocal inflection. It’s not for amateurs. It requires skill.
We have other Southern sayings, however, that are far less nuanced. They are always negative, always zingers. Here are three of the biggies:
God love her.
Tack this onto absolutely anything, and it sounds kind and loving. The implication is that we can call on the Almighty to love her, despite the many errors of her ways:
She’s dumb as a post, God love her.
She made her casserole with canned sweet potatoes, God love her.
She’s got on white shoes after Labor Day, God love her.
In her own way.
This one merits some dissection. You might hear it from pageant girls who want to demonstrate their ability to accept those who never quite mastered a cat eye and don’t own a teasing comb: “Say what you want, but I think she’s pretty . . . in her own way.”
We might also use it to describe a sister's intellect: “Nobody's ever gonna think she's college material, bless her heart, but she’s smart . . . in her own way.”
Look what she likes.
Ouch. This is a direct assault on a sister’s taste. Let’s say a 50-something bridal shower hostess shows up in a leather mini and a shoulder-padded blazer straight out of the 80s: Look what she likes. Or maybe she's burying Papaw in an SEC-themed casket. Look what she likes. Or she has “It’s Not Love But It’s Not Bad” sung at her wedding. Look what she likes.
We hope these barbed Southern sayings never get hurled at you (bless your heart). But if they do (God love you), just remember—you’re special in your own way. Keep your eyes peeled for a “Look what she likes” opportunity and create a diversion.
WATCH: 10 Things Only Southerners Know
Bet you could add to our list. For example, we forgot to mention that Southerners know how to repair everything from a prom dress to a '57 Chevy using nothing but duct tape.