Texas Living

Texasisms: Your Guide to Texas Sayings

By Abi Grise Morgan 9.23.21

Bless your heart if you’re not familiar with these quintessential Texas sayings. The Lone Star State has more quirky idioms than you can shake a stick at, but you’ll probably recognize at least a handful.

Like many Texans, some of these expressions aren’t from Texas but they got here as fast as they could. Here are a few of our favorite Texas sayings, idioms, and expressions and their unique (and sometimes downright bizarre) origin stories.

“Madder than a wet hen.”

Translation: Angry.
Origin: Farmers in the 1800s used to dunk hens into buckets of water to make them “snap out” of irritable behavior. (We’d be mad about that, too.)

“Bless your heart.”

Translation: I pity you.
Origin: A trademark of Southern slang, this saying was first cited in English dramatist Henry Fielding’s 1732 play, “The Miser.” It has since become an iconic Texas saying that comes across as either sincere or patronizing, depending on its context.

“Knee-high to a grasshopper.”

Translation: Short and/or young, typically referring to a child.
Origin: Variations of this idiom have been around since the early 19th century (including knee-high to a frog, jackrabbit, or mosquito), but the first recorded use of grasshopper was in an 1851 magazine.

“As long as a country mile.”

Translation: A long way.
Origin: In the country, “a mile up the road” could mean half a mile or 6 miles, because nobody’s really counting.

“Look like death warmed over.”

Translation: You appear ill, and maybe worse than dead.
Origin: This bleak simile first appeared in the 1939 publication “Soldier’s War Slang.”

“I smell what you’re steppin’ in.”

Translation: I understand what you’re saying.
Origin: You can smell it when someone steps in a cowpie — if you’re close enough.

“You can hang your hat on that.”

Translation: It’s a guarantee.
Origin: You would only hang a heavy, 10-gallon hat on a sturdy, trustworthy hat rack.

“Ugly as sin.”

Translation: Hideous, either physically or spiritually.
Origin: Its first cited use was in the 1800s. In the 1700s, the expression was “ugly as the devil.”

“Wouldn’t bite a biscuit.”

Translation: Harmless or timid.
Origin: Imagine a dog so docile it wouldn’t even bite a treat.

“Hissy fit.”

Translation: A tantrum.
Origin: This Texas saying uses a shortened form of the word “hysterical.”

“This ain’t my first rodeo.”

Translation: I’m experienced.
Origin: Joan Crawford’s character first uttered an iteration of the phrase in her 1981 movie “Mommie Dearest.” It was popularized a few years later when country singer Vern Gosdin released his song, “This Ain’t My First Rodeo,” though it’s unclear whether he was inspired by the film.

“I’m spittin’ cotton.”

Translation: The air is very dry.
Origin: Cotton, an important plant in Texas agriculture, is very absorbent. If chewed, all your spit would dry up.

“As yellow as mustard but without the bite.”

Translation: Shy.
Origin: Yellow means cowardly or scared, and the bite refers to mustard’s potent taste.

“Just fell off the turnip truck.”

Translation: Naïve or foolish.
Origin: This phrase was first popularized in the 1970s but possibly draws inspiration from the 16th-century association that turnips were food for the poor or foolish.

“More than you could shake a stick at.”

Translation: Lots.
Origin: Sheep farmers used to control their herds by waving their staff. If there were too many sheep, this method was no longer effective.

“Don’t squat on your spurs.”

Translation: Think before you do something.
Origin: It’s a literal pain in the rear to squat down on the pointy spurs of your cowboy boots.

“Big as Dallas.”

Translation: Huge or obvious.
Origin: Dallas is the third-most populous city in the state, but it was once No. 1.

“We’ve howdy-ed, but we ain’t shook.”

Translation: We’ve met but haven’t been formally introduced.
Origin: In a small town, you greet neighbors and strangers on the street with “Howdy!” but don’t shake hands until a formal introduction.

“Friendly as fire ants.”

Translation: Hostile.
Origin: Fire ants, needless to say, are not friendly.

“I’m gonna jerk a knot in their tail.”

Translation: I’m mad and going to address it (potentially violently).
Origin: Horse tails can get tangled in knots if left unbrushed. If you yank on a knot, the horse is not going to be happy.

“Burnin’ daylight.”

Translation: You’re running out of time.
Origin: Thank Shakespeare for popularizing this one. In “Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo refers to burning candles during daylight hours as a waste of resources.

If you love these Texas sayings, check out the Texas slang dictionary. You’ll be fluent in Texan in no time.

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