One Southern Word: Ratback

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A few years ago, there was an upsurge of interest in “how to talk Southern”.

You could buy books on the language, maybe listen to podcasts.

They’d teach you things like the Southern definition of “ah”.

In case you’ve forgotten, “ah” (in Southern-speak) has two meanings. In one sense, it refers to yourself as a first-person singular pronoun. In another, it’s the organ of sight. As in:

“Ah think ah’ve got somethin’ in mah ah.”

So far, so good. Lots of folks were dispensing wisdom such as this. Some of them were pretty good. Others were flashy phonies and wannabes. How to tell the difference?

I worked out a pretty good test. Whenever anyone began posturing and pontificating about my native tongue, I’d ask that person to define the Southern word “ratback” — and to use it correctly in a sentence.

Mostly I’d get blank stares. “Don’t you mean fatback?” “No, I mean ratback.” “Well, I know what fatback is, but ratback — not so sure.”

We true Southerners know, of course, that “ratback” is a definite statement of one’s intention, having gone somewhere, to return at once and without delay.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger had played his Terminator character as a Southern gentleman, that cyborg wouldn’t have stomped around snarling “I’ll be back.”

Instead he’d have said, “Don’t go ‘way — I’ll be ratback.”

Thus concludes our April lesson in how to talk Southern. You’re welcome.

(This article is part of my series on words that are #worth1000pictures.)


One Southern Word: Ratback — 10 Comments

  1. Love this Gary!! …reminds me of the delightful light-hearted and the somewhat idiosyncratic side of the South.

    Read your March 30th piece on the blossoming of Knoxville …will respond to that separately.

    Loving greetings from a chilly Finland. I live on the southwest coast, the warmest part of the country….and it
    snowed yesterday!

    Love to you and Cherie.

    • Well, it’s been known to snow in Knoxville even as late as April. We had a blizzard on 13 March 1993. And so forth. But I daresay Finland is a quite a bit chillier than Tennessee, on average.

      As you surely know, that hasn’t kept Finland from staking its claim as the fifth happiest nation on earth. At least according to the 2017 World Happiness Report. Three other Nordic countries (Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, in that order) occupy the top three spots, with Switzerland in fourth place. My ancestral homeland, Sweden (another Nordic country) is in 10th place. Happiness-wise, all these “chilly” locales rank far above 14th-place USA! Having spent time in Iceland and the Faroe Islands, I’d jump at the chance to go ratback.

  2. Hahaha, that cracked me up. Long long time ago I was a guest in a southern woman’s home. And she used to say stuff like this. And ah, who was only just becoming accustomed to the language spoken in Boston was completely overwhelmed by this new language.
    I did like her playful side though when she said something that sounded like she had to do bubble study.

    • We can all feel your pain, Dev. Having done bubble study for years, however, via church and Sunday school, I’m not convinced your southern friend was speaking playfully. How do you know this wasn’t simply her normal speech pattern?

    • From the perceptive questions and observations you’ve posted here in the past, dear Mahin, I suspect you’re more fluent in Southern-speak than a great many Southern natives!

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