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What Bless Your Heart Really Means

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by mother and daughter authors, Sandra Poole and Jennifer Youngblood

We've all heard it, and most of us have said it, but what does it really mean? Now, before all of you dyed-in-the-wool Southerners get your drawers in a wad and start hollering that I'm preaching to the choir, let me continue. "Bless your heart" is not something that you have to explain to Southerners. We all understand it because it's our language. We all know that "bless your heart" has many meanings, kind of like how the word aloha means hello, goodbye, and I love you in Hawaiian. It all depends on how you use it. Like I said earlier, I used to think that everybody knew what "bless your heart" meant, and it wasn't until a friend of mine from out West started complaining about it that I realized that the term could be confusing to foreigners. So, here are a few simple definitions you can use the next time a Yankee or Westerner starts carrying on about the way we talk.

  1. "Bless your heart" is a form of empathy. It's like giving someone a great, big hug. When a friend starts complaining about her rotten boss, her no count husband, and how the kids are driving her crazy, we just shake our heads and look her in the eye and give her a heartfelt "bless your heart." It's our way of saying "Honey, I'm so sorry. I know just how you feel, and I'm glad that today it's you and not me."
  2. When your cousin Susie does something just plain dumb, and your aunt Margaret calls you up to tell you about it, you just listen real close and utter a few "bless her hearts" when she pauses long enough to draw in a breath. That way you'll both know that even though Susie doesn't have enough sense to blow up a pea, she's still family after all, and we love her anyway.
  3. In the South, we believe in being polite even if it kills us. So, when we just can't fight the urge to say something nasty, we follow it up with a "bless her heart" just to make us feel better. "Look at that poor woman trying to jog around that track. Her rear-end is dragging a trail, bless her heart."
  4. Probably the most important way we use "bless your heart" is so we can identify each other. When I'm far from home and feeling all alone, I just throw out a few "bless your hearts" into the conversation and see what happens. If the person I'm talking to gets this confused look like I've just sprouted another head , then I just go on to the next person and do the same thing until finally I hear that familiar twang that's sweeter than a melody and then come those beautiful words "Well, bless your heart." That's when I know I'm home-- even though I'm a thousand miles away.

So the next time someone comes up and puts an arm around you and offers a heart-felt "bless your heart," you'd better count your lucky stars that you're in a place where people still care enough to say it. Yes, indeed. Bless your heart, and God bless the hearts of all Southerners!

You have our permission to print this “Confessions of a true Southerner article” giving credit to: Sandra Poole and Jennifer Youngblood, mother and daughter co-authors of novels: Stoney Creek, Alabama – ISBN 972-10065-103-8 and Livin’ in High Cotton – ISBN 0-9728071-4-4 Mapletree Publishing, Denver, CO

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Jennifer Youngblood
Southern Humor
Jennifer Youngblood's web site

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