Mark Ballard

Swearing Southern-style


Recently, while visiting our niece, Dallas, and her family in another state, we were talking about her two boys and all that comes with raising children. I couldn’t help but laugh when she recounted a story about something one of them said.

Dallas was driving the older of the two boys to school when someone slammed on the brakes in front of them. “Dad-gummit!” she exclaimed, quickly pressing the brake as hard as she could. “Mom, you’re not supposed to say that!” Charlie scolded her.

Always being careful not to let real cuss words slip out around her children, Dallas asked him why. “Because that’s what Daddy says when he gets mad!” he exclaimed. “Oh really?” she replied. “Yeah, you’re the mom and not the dad so you’re supposed to say Mom-gummit!”

Dad-gummit is a word I was also very familiar with growing up. Cuss words were not invited or welcomed in our house. Especially the hard-core ones. But my God-fearing, church-going parents had a group of words that passed the test for replacing regular cuss words. And they used them quite often when something made them mad.

“Oh, shoot!” Mother would declare when she was disgusted. As we grew older, we realized it was her version of another word that also starts with an “s” and ends with a “t.” But we certainly never called her out about it. Every so often, she let the real cuss word out. When she did, time would stop, and we would hold our breaths as we waited for a bolt of lightning to strike.

When my grandmother happened to hear Mother say that dreaded word, she would cross her arms, purse her lips and, with complete and utter disgust written on her face, would say to my sister and me, “Your mother got that foul language from your granddaddy’s side of the family.” We would all have a good chuckle. When Mother felt like someone in the car beside her at a red light was staring, she would mutter, “When you get your eyes full, open your mouth!”

I rarely heard my daddy utter a cuss word, but he had several other Southern words and phrases he relied on when he had to let off some steam. “What in the Sam Hill is that driver in front of me doing?” he would yell. We never knew who Sam Hill was, but he must have been quite a character. “What in the world is keeping this cotton-pickin’ screw from going into this dadgum hole?” he belted out more than once.

If you ask anyone who knew Daddy what his favorite thing to say when he wanted to use a cuss word but refrained, they would say without doubt that it was “Amazing grace!” Not the way you would normally say it, but in a much more exaggerated, louder and slower way. “AMAAAAAZING GRAAACE, that hurt!” he would say if the hammer hit his thumb.

It’s ironic now that the bad words that were so forbidden back then are now heard daily on news broadcasts, television shows and movies. I must be honest and tell you I utter an occasional cuss word. I was always very careful not to use one on live television but, “dog-gonit” I often feared I would. To coin another one of my parents’ Southern sayings, “If the Lord be willing and the creek don’t rise,” I’m going to try to be better in the future!

Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to 3514 Ridge Avenue, Macon, GA 31204; call 478-757-6877; email; follow him at creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.