My sister, who is in her 50s, recently mused to my 13-year-old son, "Well, there's more than one way to skin a cat."
Hearing this expression from his aunt, his eyes got big.
"Who skins cats?" he said.
It made me realize that 21st-century Chattanooga kids don't speak Southern anymore. They don't share the proper cultural reference points.
The same 13-year-old asked me the other day: "Who the heck is Elvis?"
On a whim, I decided to make a list of Southernisms and colloquial expressions. Then, I sat this young man down and asked him to interpret these phrases. He had hits and misses.
Me: "Heavens to Betsy," what does that mean?
Son: I'm guessing somebody died, and her name was Betsy.
Me: "Hold your horses."
Son: Relax. In the old days they rode horses, and I guess they had to hold them back sometimes.
Me: Good answer.
Son: Thank you.
Me: "Funny as all get out."
Son: It's so funny you gotta get out of there. I mean OUT!
Me: "You've lost your marbles."
Son: You've lost your mind.
Me: "He won't hit a lick at a snake."
Son: So, I guess he's scared of snakes, right?
Me: "Bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck."
Son: What? A bushel? And a peck? You made that up.
Me: Do you even know what a bushel is?
Me: "Don't let the screen door hit you."
Son: Go quickly. I think a screen door is some kind of mesh.
Me: "It doesn't amount to a hill of beans."
Son: Wait, there's a hill of beans somewhere?
Me: I guess.
Son: Interesting. Nobody likes beans.
Me: "Madder than a wet hen."
Son: So a hen is a female rooster, right?
Me: Something like that.
Son: Well, I guess female roosters don't like to get wet.
Me: On that note: "Scarce as hen's teeth."
Son: Do they even have teeth?
Me: I think that's the point.
Me: "Till the cows come home."
Son: You need to ring the cowbell to get them moving.
Me: "If I had my druthers."
Son: I think it's like a dream brother, a "druther." I wish my brother was a "druther."
Me: "Mend fences."
Son: You sit on a fence with two other men.
Me: "Too big for your britches."
Son: Your pants don't fit.
Me: "Fly off the handle."
Son: If you fly off the handle, you'll fall off the horse.
Me: "Don't bite off more than you can chew."
Son: Don't take more than you can eat.
Me: "Were you raised in a barn?"
Son: Are you dumb?
Me: "Two peas in a pod."
Son: Two people who are really close.
Me: "The pot calling the kettle black."
Son: Why did the pot do this?
Me: I don't know.
Me: "Whatever floats your boat."
Son: Whatever makes you happy.
Me: "We are living in high cotton."
Son: Yes, and it's hot in there.
Me: "If the Creek don't rise."
Son: Then we won't have water.
Me: Pretty as a peach.
Son: Well, nobody says that anyway.
Contact Mark Kennedy at email@example.com.