A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

16 Trivia Facts Only True Southerners Know

So you think you're a true Southerner and are positively brimming with knowledge that people above the Mason-Dixon line could never understand? Let's see how well you really know your biscuits from your dumplings.

1 / 17
Horse Fence Snakes its Way Over the Hill in rural Kentucky
Kelly vanDellen/Shutterstock

The south is truly its own little oasis

The first time I encountered the south was when I attended summer camp in North Carolina. At breakfast, I asked for “a grit.” There was a moment of silence before the entire cafeteria burst out laughing at me, yet I still didn’t understand what I had done wrong, having been told by friends that I should order grits when I arrived in the Tar Heel State. I learned my lesson quickly. Cross over to the southern side, and it’s not just a different accent that you’ll hear: southerners have their own way of speaking with different phrases, a whole new pronunciation, and a southern genre of culinary delights. Say these 9 words and we’ll tell you where you grew up.

2 / 17
Country church in New England
Leena Robinson/Shutterstock

Church is more than a religion: it’s a way of life

When she first arrived in Nashville, Stacy Harris, publisher and executive editor of Stacy’s Music Row Report, was chatting with a fellow customer at a fast-food joint and mentioned that she was new in town. “She asked me what church I went to,” Harris says. “I considered that a personal question, and hence rude, but she would tell you she meant well, believing she was extending a friendly invitation to join her for services at her church the following Sunday.” Learn the United States trivia your high school teacher never told you.

3 / 17
alabama football
Jamie Lamor Thompson/Shutterstock

Football is the other religion

In other parts of the country, football is an enjoyable game to watch, a fun pastime; but in the South, it’s a way of life. Tailgating at big southern state schools (think Louisiana State University and University of Alabama) includes fried turkeys, roasted pigs, plenty of beer and an ocean-sized parking lot of RVs packed with fans. According to ESPN, football—especially college football—is so important in the south because it has a long history there. The south’s devotion to college football reaches back to the early 1900s, and you’re taught at a very young age to worship your parents’ team of choice. Find out the 10 best football movies of all time.

4 / 17
a large wooden table generously covered with delicious national dishes, with friends sitting and drinking light beer from glasses
Anna Nass/Shutterstock

“Meat and three” is a standard order

Go to a restaurant throughout the South and put in your order for “meat and three.” As the name implies, it’s one serving of meat, plus three sides. Typically, there are three to six daily choices for your meat ranging from country ham to meatloaf and about a dozen choices for your side including mac and cheese, creamed corn, and potatoes. All this is served up with a traditional tall glass of sweet iced tea and a hunk of cornbread.

5 / 17
This is an abandoned bard in a soybean field in Tennessee at sunset. The clouds are just starting to catch a little color from the sunset.

Maury County is pronounced Murray county

“You always know someone is new to Tennessee when they don’t know that Maury County is pronounced Murray county,” Harris says. Does this make sense? Absolutely not. But it’s just the way you pronounce it here. Other odd pronunciations in Tennessee and throughout the South? Milan is pronounced my-lan, Louisville is pronounced Louis-vull, Lebanon is pronounced Leban-un and Alabama’s Mobile is mob-eel (like the thing you hang over a crib). Oh, and here’s a biggie: New Orleans should be pronounced N’aw-lins. Find out 35 more city names around the world you’re mispronouncing.

6 / 17
beautiful green grasshopper in a green grass
Chamois huntress/Shutterstock

How tall knee-high to a grasshopper is

It’s actually not tall at all, says Amanda Minton, who hails from Charleston, South Carolina. When you tell someone that they’re knee-high to a grasshopper, you’re telling them that they’re very young. This phrase is often used in the past tense to refer to a period a long time ago. Find out the backstory of 14 commonly used idioms.

7 / 17
Four funny cows looking at the camera
Birkir Asgeirsson/Shutterstock

How the cow ate the cabbage

“When my nana had to tell someone to do something they didn’t like, she would say, ‘I told them how the cow ate the cabbage,'” says Stephen Spivey, a filmmaker based in Atlanta who was born and raised in the South. Since cows don’t eat cabbage, this folk saying is known to mean to state your opinion strongly. It’s often said in Texas and Arkansas and is derived from the punchline to an off-color joke detailing an elephant eating cabbage in the backyard. Here are 20 funny phrases definitely worth memorizing.

8 / 17
Barbecue Fire Grill close-up, isolated on Black Background
AVN Photo Lab/Shutterstock

BBQ is different in each state

In the north, (usually) barbecue is barbecue: ribs, chicken, and mac and cheese. But in the South, there are specific styles of BBQ, according to Eater, and the sauce is just as important as the type of meat. If you go to North Carolina, expect to eat pulled pork topped with a vinegar-based sauce that’s a combo of cider vinegar, cayenne, pepper, hot sauce, and salt. Travel to South Carolina, to enjoy the addition of mustard to your vinegar-based barbecue sauce. In Texas, you’ll get a mop sauce which is literally applied with a mop to the top of your beef brisket. It’s a glaze that could include beef stock, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and spices.

9 / 17
Pitcher and mason jar mugs filled with iced tea and lemons sitting on picnic table with red checked tablecloth
Teri Virbickis/Shutterstock

Iced tea is sweet

If you’re ordering iced tea anywhere, expect it to be sweet, on par with a glass of regular Coca-Cola. (We’re pretty sure that’s why it’s so delicious.) In 2003, the Georgia House introduced a bill making it a misdemeanor to sell iced tea and not offer a sweet tea option. This may have been an April Fool’s joke and never went to a vote.

10 / 17
Woman holding a can of beer in a sleeve by the fire while camping
Trevor Jones/Shutterstock

Southerners have a koozie for every occasion

Anyone else may not even know what a koozie is—but southerners can’t live without one. These canned-drink insulators keep your drink cold and prevent it from sweating on your hand when you’re outdoors. And since southerners are often outdoors as the weather is fab in their neck of the woods just about all year long—and since they love to show their support for their fave football team—and since they also have a thing for cold beer—they bring their own koozies everywhere. Discover 61 genius products on Amazon you’ll definitely use every day.

11 / 17
Michelle Lee Photography/Shutterstock

Do not talk about cornbread with new friends

Because cornbread is a very controversial topic. It’s just about as controversial as religion and politics. The big debate is whether you believe you should have sugar or spice in your cornbread. Yup, that’s all. But in a region that takes cornbread as seriously as it does its football—the sugar topic is a biggie. The sugar issue crosses over state lines, and it’s usually handed down from generation to generation. So if your grandparents baked their cornbread with sugar, then you will probably prefer it to be sweet, but if they added in jalapenos, you likely do, too.

12 / 17
Black eyed peas in a wooden spoon. Close-up.

Black-eyed peas are a must on New Year’s Day

If you’re not from the South, you may never eat black-eyed peas in your life. But if you live here, you’re going to feast on them every New Year’s Day—or risk a year of bad luck. More specifically, you’re supposed to eat one pea for each day of the year, so you technically should be eating 365 peas. Fill your plate up with these other good luck foods for the best year yet.

13 / 17
Headshot of indecisive confused young European woman in denim wear pursuing lips, her look expressing doubt and uncertainty as she has to come up with best solution while dealing with problem
WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock

“Bless your heart” is not necessarily sincere

Anywhere else in the world, you might say, “thank you.” But southerners like to say this sarcastically, as in, “Bless your heart, you have no idea what you’re talking about.” It’s not always said sarcastically, but according to Southern Living, the phrase is often said in a sassy manner with a bit of judgment. Smiling and changing the subject is a good response (this is the south, after all, and manners are everything). But make sure that they’re saying it sarcastically: if it’s said with an empathetic tone, it may be literal. Here’s some more Southern belle etiquette we need to bring back.

14 / 17
Wheel tire mess up with mud and dirt
lapon pinta/Shutterstock

If you’re invited to go muddin’…

…aka mud bogging, mudslinging, and mud racing…you know that you’re really being invited to drive pick-up trucks and get covered in mud in the process. There will be spinning tires, there will be some trucks that will get stuck in the mud. Why do they go muddin’? Because they have pick-up trucks and they had mud so why wouldn’t they go muddin’? Find out 15 pop trivia facts almost everyone gets wrong.

15 / 17
Cold Refreshing Classic Mint Julep with Mint and Bourbon
Brent Hofacker/Shutterstock

The secret to making a mint julep

A mint julep only has three ingredients: bourbon, simple syrup, and mint, says Masia Malaksis, CEO of Belle Chevre in Elkmont, Alabama. “What a true southern knows is that it should be served in a silver cup and only served with bitty, pellet ice, like what you find at Sonic,” she says. “These two details are telltale signs of a true mint julep.” The best time to enjoy one? While watching the Kentucky Derby, of course.

16 / 17
coca cola
Andrii Yurkevych11/Shutterstock

Coca-Cola with peanuts is a treat

Hey, don’t knock ’em till you’ve tried them. Popping peanuts into Coca-Cola (call it “Coke” in the south, and you’d be referring to any type of soda) is a century-old tradition, according to the Independent. It’s practical: you can eat and drink simultaneously, and you don’t even have to wash your hands in order to snack. Plus, this has the sweet and salty thing going for it, in the same manner as salted caramel. You just have to get the correct ratio of peanuts to soda—and that may be something only a southerner can master. Find out 50 surprising things you can do with a Coca-Cola.

17 / 17
Close up African American couple ignore each other after quarrel, sitting with arms crossed on sofa at home, unhappy wife and husband avoid talking, family conflict concept, relationship problem

The middle name is no good

If mom uses your first, middle, and last name, you know you’re in trouble…if you’re in the south. This is often satirized in sitcoms, but it actually happens—and when it does, you come running. It’s simply the way it is, according to SouthernThing. Oh, and that middle name? Most often, it’s your mother’s maiden name. Here are other middle name traditions throughout the world.

Danielle Braff
Danielle Braff regularly covers travel, health and lifestyle for Reader's Digest. Her articles have also been published in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and other publications. She has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in musicology from Oxford University in England. Danielle is based in Chicago, where she lives with her husband and two children. See her recent articles at Daniellebraff.com. You can follow her on Facebook @Danielle.Karpinos, Twitter @daniellebraff and Instagram at danikarp.